Countryside_iStock_000068239585_LargeOver the past few years Alabama has had the highest rate of heartworm disease in the country. We are now seeing an average of 90 cases per clinic, as opposed to 30 in 2010. This is scary for pet owners and disconcerting for those in the field of veterinary medicine.

Although it is true that our humid, warm climate keeps mosquitoes active year-round, we are also finding a significant percentage of pet owners are not keeping their pets on a parasite preventative that protects against the disease.

The Seriousness of Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. Mosquitoes transfer this parasite from other infected canids such as other dogs, coyotes, and foxes. However, the disease can only be contracted through mosquitoes that carry the parasite (microfilariae).

Once infected, it will often take several weeks for the immature worms to reach adulthood, as they find their way to the heart, lungs, and major vessels surrounding the heart. There they can create life-threatening damage to these organs, and can even result in cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.

While dogs are the central focus of heartworm disease and more at risk, cats can acquire the disease, too. Because the disease is more difficult to detect and treat in felines, we recommend keeping both cat and dog companions on a heartworm preventive throughout the year.

Symptoms of Heartworm

Heartworm disease can be elusive to detect “by eye”, which is why we perform annual screening to ensure your pet is parasite-free. This is particularly important before starting any kind of heartworm prevention medication, since there can be serious reactions to the medication if a pet is already infected.

When physical symptoms do arise, they often include the following:

  • Persistent cough
  • Weight loss
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Prevention is Cheaper and Easy to Administer

Treatment is often complex with heartworm and depends upon how much damage has been created or how long a pet has lived with the mature worms. In some cases, medications and monitoring over a period of months will be sufficient while in other dogs, surgery may be required.

Considering how cost-effective a monthly preventive is and how potentially dangerous this disease can be, it makes sense to opt for the safest decision: prevention.

All it takes it one infected mosquito to bite your pet. Even if you only missed one month of the preventive, your pet will need to be screened for heartworm for his or her safety before starting the monthly preventive again.

If you have not had your pet screened and consistently on a preventive, please schedule a wellness appointment today. You are also welcome to contact our office with any questions about reducing your pet’s risk.