VolVet_iStock_000011438475_LargeIn both human and veterinary medicine, we are faced with many illnesses that are outside the realm of our control. Despite our best efforts, some pets may develop one of those unpreventable disease. However, there are some illnesses that we can protect our pets from; heartworm disease is one of those that, with a little work and persistence, we can knock off the list!

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a serious illness that we see too frequently in Tennessee. Heartworm disease is caused by the parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis; this parasite is transmitted from an infected animal to others through mosquito bite. It only takes one mosquito bite to transmit heartworm disease to your pet.

When a pet becomes infected, the immature heartworms travel through the bloodstream and eventually settle in the heart, lungs, and major blood vessels. These worms can live several years, causing eventual lung disease and heart failure.

Early in the course of infection, your pet may not present any outward symptoms. As the disease progresses, however, an affected pet may experience:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weight loss
  • Sudden death (especially in cats)

While we think of heartworm disease as primarily affecting dogs, cats can be (and are) infected as well. There is available treatment for infected dogs, albeit costly and difficult. Even when heartworm disease is treated in dogs, it is impossible to reverse many changes to the heart and lungs. Preventive care for cats is especially important, as they are unable to tolerate treatment for heartworms.

How Can I Protect My Pet?

The good news is that heartworm disease is almost entirely preventable! We are lucky enough to have several FDA approved preventative medications available for both dogs and cats.

When administered properly, these medications are safe and effective. We recommend that all pets be on year-round preventative care. Mosquitoes are active at temperatures above 50 degrees and our Knoxville winters can be mild enough to promote continued mosquito activity through the winter months, so it’s important to administer preventive care in every season.  Administering preventive care consistently and not letting treatement lapse is key effective heartworm prevention.

You can also help protect your pet by limiting their exposure to mosquitoes. Be sure to eliminate standing water in your yard, considering planting mosquito-repelling plants, and avoid going outside during times when mosquito activity is highest. Some topical parasite preventatives also offer additional protection against mosquitoes.

Heartworm disease is a scary thing, but by becoming knowledgeable about how it is transmitted, pet owners are often effectively able to prevent it. With a little understanding and commitment, you can greatly minimize the chances your pet will ever encounter this disease first hand.

If you need help selecting a preventative for your pet, or have any questions, be sure to ask. Volunteer Veterinary Hospital is dedicated to educating our clients on proactive, responsible pet care!