As residents of Arizona, it once seemed that heartworm disease was not a big problem for our furry family members. It was easy for us to assume our furry family members are protected from heartworm disease since mosquitos are typically found in wet climates. However, the fact is that heartworm cases have increased exponentially over the last several years, having been documented in all 50 states – including a record of 397 positive cases right here in Maricopa County in 2018. With this in mind, we wanted to share some information about heartworm disease in order to help you make informed decisions on these important areas that impact the health and wellness of your pet.
What exactly is heartworm disease? Heartworm is a serious parasitic disease found primarily in dogs and cats. In reality, we are talking about actual worms, and potentially many of them (up to several hundred!). The worms can be up to a foot-long and live directly within the heart or the neighboring large blood vessels for years. As heartworm disease advances, it can result in a myriad of health complications for our pets including severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs, and can even be fatal.
How does a pet get heartworm? All it takes is a bite from a mosquito that is carrying the disease. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is a carrier of the disease, which is why prevention is the best protection we can give to our pets.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease? Although there are minimal symptoms in the beginning stages, the longer the infection is present the more likely symptoms will arise. The most common symptoms are coughing, fatigue and decreased appetite. Because symptoms are usually well hidden in the early stages, prevention is key to help avoid the life-long impact that heartworm disease can have on our pets.
How do we prevent heartworm disease? Heartworm prevention is as easy as a monthly oral or topical medication that you can pick up at your next appointment. Heartworm medications cannot prevent infection from occurring but instead treats the disease by clearing out any existing heartworm larvae that were transmitted since their last monthly treatment. We also recommend an annual blood test to help ensure that the preventative is working as expected. With an annual test at our hospital combined with your commitment to providing the monthly preventatives at home, we have the best shot of protecting your pet from this preventable disease.
Why you should incorporate a heartworm preventative into your pet’s wellness plan:
We understand that adding a heartworm preventative can feel like a big step, adding a little bit of expense and time each month. However, prevention is incredibly easy in comparison to the alternative – once your pet is infected with heartworms, treatment is costly and difficult for both you, and especially, your pet. Treatment includes antibiotics, steroids, preventatives, and monthly injections to kill the adult worms, as well as hospitalization for your pet, and ongoing treatment and testing.
Talk with us at your next appointment for more information on the preventative options for your pet. As always, we’re here to be your trusted partner to help ensure that your pet’s healthcare plan provides them with a happy and healthy life by your side! Find an AZPetVet location near you.