April is Heartworm Awareness Month and as pet owners, it’s crucial to be aware of this potentially deadly disease and how to prevent it.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease not only affects dogs, many other domestic and wild animals, including cats, can also become infected with heartworm. Although heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos, they’re not a disease of outdoor cats only—27% of cats with heartworm disease are indoor cats.
Heartworm disease symptoms can be difficult to detect in dogs or cats, especially in the initial stages. For dogs, long-term infections will show as a mild cough, fatigue, lethargy, decrease or loss of appetite, or drastic weight loss. For cats, signs of heartworm disease can be very subtle or very dramatic. Some cats show no outward signs of distress, while others will have asthma-like attacks, difficulty walking, vomiting or seizures. Sadly, in some cases the first sign of distress in an affected cat is sudden collapse or death.
Prevention & Testing
The American Heartworm Society recommends that you “think 12:” (1) get your pet tested every 12 months for heartworm and (2) give your pet heartworm preventive 12 months a year. Heartworms have been found in all 50 states and because of unpredictable seasonal temperature changes such as warmer and wetter springs, and later frosts, your pet is at risk year-round.