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Heartworm Awareness Month: Your Questions, Answered

Your Guidebook to Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is a serious infection that causes many animals to be sick or die every year. While it’s a term most pet owners know, it’s important to also realize what the disease is and how it could affect your pet. Read our heartworm disease FAQs so you can know what the disease is and how to best protect your pet. 

What is Heartworm Disease?

A dog catches heartworm disease when bit by a mosquito carrying the parasite. The parasite, or worms, are called dirofilaria immitis and they mature and produce while inside the animal. The disease is reported nationwide but is most common on the East Coast, including the Triangle area. Click here to see the heartworm incidence map and where it is most common. Heartworm disease can cause heart failure, severe lung disease and other damage to your pet’s organs.  

What are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

The severity of symptoms can vary from dog to dog, but here are a few symptoms to look out for:

  • Coughing
  • Tiredness after moderate activity
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Swollen belly

Is It Possible for Cats to Get Heartworm Disease?

It is possible for cats to contract heartworm disease, although the infection is different compared to dogs. Most worms in cats will not survive to the adult stage, and usually there are only a few worms in cats. Even non-adult and a low amount of worms can cause damage to cats though, and it’s important to also use heartworm prevention.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Cats?

Cats with heartworm disease typically show symptoms that are similar to other diseases, making it difficult for owners to know the cause. Look out for these symptoms, and if they continue, take your cat to the vet to be checked out:

  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased activity
  • Coughing

What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Heartworm Disease?

The best way to prevent heartworm disease is to give a regular medication. There are three different kinds of preventatives: oral, topical and injection. Oral and topical heartworm preventatives will be given monthly and the injection will usually be once every six months or annually. They work by killing the young stage of the worm which will in turn not allow it to reproduce or grow into maturity. Because of this, it is important to stick to a strict medication schedule to make sure there is not a lapse in protection.

When Should My Pet Be Tested for Heartworms?

To make sure your pet is negative for heartworms, you should have them tested:

  • Before they start heartworm medication
  • If you forget to administer the monthly heartworm prevention two months in a row
  • If your pet recently switched to a new heartworm medication
  • If your pet is displaying symptoms of heartworm disease

Heartworm Prevention Month

While heartworm disease is a life-threatening and scary disease for pets, you can rest assured that with proper prevention, it is unlikely for your pet to suffer from the disease. Raleigh and the surrounding towns are indeed common places for this disease to occur, but regular vet check-ups, monthly prevention and keeping a close eye out for symptoms will help protect your pet. Learn more about Heartworm Awareness month here. 

Questions about Heartworm Disease?

The veterinarians at Care First Animal Hospital want the best for your pet, which means helping you create a heartworm prevention plan that will put your mind at ease! If you have any questions about heartworm disease or want to set up a consult for how we can help protect your pet, contact us today.

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