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Heartworm Disease

February 2017

Another important topic to be aware of is heartworm disease. I am going to cover what it is, why prevention is important, and what treatment entails.

Heartworm disease is spread by an infected mosquitos biting into an animal’s skin and leaving microscopic baby worms (called microfilaria) that can enter the animal’s blood stream through the bite wound. These microfilaria eventually create adult foot-long heartworms that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and cause long-term damage. Although many pets do not show symptoms in the early stages of the disease, as time goes on, pets can develop a persistent cough, exercise fatigue, decreased appetite, weight loss, and a swollen abdomen. Even when given treatment, this disease is potentially fatal. 

Although our pets may always be at risk for heartworm disease, the good news is that you can take preventative measures to avoid it.  Puppies and kittens should be started on a prescription heartworm preventative as young as 8 weeks old that is given monthly. We sell heartworm preventatives for both dogs and cats, such as Revolution and Heartgard. (Ask us about rebates for these products!) Once a puppy reaches eight months old, we can perform the first annual heartworm blood test, called Accuplex. After obtaining a small blood sample, we send the blood to a local diagnostic laboratory and will receive results within 1-2 business days. With negative results, owners are able to continue the monthly prescription heartworm preventative and annual Accuplex test for the rest of the pet's life. 

If the results come back and a pet is heartworm positive, further veterinary care and treatment is necessary. Heartworm disease treatment includes a particularly expensive series of drug injections that are administered by a veterinarian over the span of several months. In addition to the multiple trips to the veterinary clinic that will be necessary, you will also need to take extreme measures to ensure the safety of your pet at home. Because physical activity can increase the damage heartworms cause to the heart and lungs, exercise must be restricted throughout treatment. Pets can have short breaks for meals and to relieve themselves but should be on strict rest otherwise. Approximately 6 months after treatment is completed, more heartworm testing will be performed to determine if all heartworms have been removed. With a negative test result, the heartworm prevention plan of annual testing and monthly medication discussed above should be done.

For more information visit American Heartworm Society 

Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this blog is intended to establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained veterinarian or other health care professional, or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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