Sad dog on his bed.

Heartworm disease is something most pet owners know about, but may only have a vague understanding of, overall. Public education on heartworm disease is lacking, and many pet owners are unaware that it is one of the deadliest diseases threatening our dogs and cats.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis, which is transmitted via mosquito. Mosquitoes pick up heartworm from feeding on an infected animal. Dogs, cats, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, opossums, and other mammals can be infected with heartworm.

Once your pet is infected, these microscopic worms will take up residence in the heart, lungs, and accompanying blood vessels, growing up to 12 inches in length and wreaking havoc on your pet’s major organs.

Thanks to our warm climate and abundant mosquito population, Tennessee is one of the top ten states for heartworm disease in the nation, and the number of reported cases is rising each year. According to the American Heartworm Society, Tennessee veterinary practices reported an average of 24 heartworm-positive dogs per clinic in 2013, up from 20 per clinic in 2010.

The Importance Of Heartworm Prevention

Of all the parasites your pet could contract, heartworms are the deadliest. It is possible to treat a dog infected with heartworm, but the treatment is costly and can not only be uncomfortable for your dog, but could also require months of confinement. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, an infected dog could end up with life-long organ damage, even if he or she is successfully treated.

There is currently no available treatment for heartworm disease in cats. Because cats are not a typical host animal for the heartworm parasite, the worms generally don’t complete their life-cycle inside a cat’s body. The presence of even a few immature or dead worms can cause a host of major complications for cats, and death is usually the end result.

Heartworm may be deadly, but it also almost 100% preventable thanks to heartworm preventive medication. Your pet should be given this monthly preventive medicine year-round, and because mosquitos often find their way inside our homes, indoor-only pets are not exempt.

A Budget-Friendly Choice

The annual cost of heartworm preventive medication is typically less than ten percent of the cost of treating a pet for heartworm disease. Most heartworm medications also contain ingredients to prevent and eradicate common intestinal parasites such as roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm.

Volunteer Veterinary Hospital Can Help

If you haven’t started your pet on a year-round heartworm prevention program, we are here to help. Give us a call to set up an appointment or to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about heartworm prevention.