April is Heartworm Awareness Month. In most of the country and especially the southeastern United States, heartworms are quite common due to our long mosquito season. Dogs are the definitive host for heartworms, though infections in cats sometimes happen.
Heartworms are spread by mosquitos, which pick up the immature stages from an infected dog and then pass them on to a different dog when they move on for another blood meal. The parasite takes six months to mature in the dog, producing larvae, which circulate in the bloodstream. The adult parasites stay in the dog’s heart, where they cause disease.
Heartworm infection can cause major health issues such as severe lung disease and heart failure. Heartworm disease is complicated and potentially deadly. The best approach is prevention.
Heartworms can be prevented with monthly prescription medication or a new veterinary administered injection twice a year. Heartworm prevention is much less expensive and safer for your dog than treatment once they are infected.
See your veterinarian for advice on testing and how to protect your dog from the dangers of heartworm infection. To find a veterinarian in your area, visit tvmanet.org and click on the “find-a-vet” tool.
Visit the American Heartworm Society to learn more about heartworm prevention at heartwormsociety.org.
Dr. Mary Chorney Carter
Public Relations Chair, Tenn. Veterinary Medical Association
Fayetteville Animal Clinic