According to the American Heartworm Society, which was established in 1974, more than a million pets in the United States are positive for heartworms. But this can be avoided by following the suggestions of your veterinarian and becoming educated on the cause and prevention of heartworms. Although heartworms are found primarily in dogs, they can also be found in cats and ferrets.

What exactly are heartworms?

Heartworms are parasites that live in the heart and lungs of their host. They are caused by a bite from an infected mosquito. Contrary to popular belief, mosquitos are not dormant during the colder months of the year-this is why it is important to keep your pet up to date on prevention all year round and make sure they are tested annually. It only takes a single bite for a pet to become infected. When mosquitos bite an infected animal, the worms reproduce in the gut of the mosquito and then that mosquito carries the microfilariae (heartworm larva) to the next host. The larvae that get deposited into your pet’s bloodstream, will eventually turn into adult heartworms which is dangerous as they can cause major blockage in your pets’ arteries and can infect the vital organs such as the heart and lungs as mentioned above. Although a heartworm positive pet can be treated, it is very costly and if undiagnosed, can be fatal.

What are symptoms of heartworm disease?

The list below are some symptoms to look out for if your pets are not protected.

  • Persistent mild Coughing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy after moderate activity
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Reluctance to exercise

*As heartworm disease progresses, some animals may develop a swollen stomach-this is caused by excess fluid in the abdomen.

Can pets live with heartworms?

The short answer is yes; they can live many years-this varies depending on the species of pet, age and breed. However, untreated, it is certainly a death sentence as their condition will continuously worsen over time.

What can I do to make sure that my pets are protected?

  • Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to talk about heartworms & preventions.
  • Get tested annually
  • Keep up with monthly (30 days) prevention. There are many different preventions available. Ask your vet what would work best for you and your pet!

The short video below is provided by the American Heartworm Society.