April is Heartworm Awarness Month

Published 7:29 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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By Samantha Mills

Bluegrass Newsmedia

According to the American Heartworm Society, more than one million pets in the United States have heartworms. This is a very troublesome statistic for our furry friends. Even after the heartworms are gone, they can still affect an animal’s health and quality of life. These parasites are ruthless in what they do. Millions of dog owners still fail to protect their pets from the infestation. Heartworms are preventable, and there are no excuses for not protecting your pet.

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April has been officially designated National Heartworm Awareness Month to raise public awareness and combat the rise of heartworm disease. It is an excellent opportunity to emphasize the importance of prevention and encourage everyone to take action to protect their pets.

Heartworms are spread through mosquitoes, with many cases occurring near large bodies of water, but they are increasingly becoming present in every state. National Veterinary Programs Director Dr. Erin Katribe says, “The most common signs of heartworm in dogs are coughing, exercise intolerance, collapsing or fainting episodes, decreased appetite, and weight loss.”

Dr. Katribe added, “Infection is less common in cats, but the disease can present as an asthma-like cough.”  

One of the first symptoms is coughing. As the disease progresses, the animal may cough up bloody mucus and experience chest pain. Other symptoms include vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, dogs may not show symptoms until the disease progresses. 

To treat heartworms in dogs, x-rays and blood tests are done to determine the severity of the infection. The dog is then given a series of adulticide injections, which are derived from arsenic. Treatment costs range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand, depending on the tests performed.

Here are some tips to prevent the ominous disease. Keep dogs and cats on a chosen preventative year-round, regardless of location, because heartworm disease is popping up in every state nationwide.

Even if a dog tests negative without being on preventatives, they could still test positive in six months as it takes that long to develop and be visible on standard screenings. 

If a dog tests positive for heartworm, it’s important to understand that most dogs go through treatment without any complications. The treatments today are much safer than those used in previous generations, so heartworms should no longer carry a stigma.  

Many shelters that are struggling with overcrowding across the south are the same shelters with a high prevalence of heartworm disease. Sadly, heartworm-positive dogs are the first to be killed when capacity becomes an issue, so they’re an at-risk population in shelters. The great news is that heartworms aren’t directly transferable to other pets in the household, so there is no reason not to foster or adopt a heartworm-positive dog. 

Cats can get heartworms, too, and there is currently no treatment. Cats should be on preventatives, especially in endemic areas.   

“If you have the ability to help a heartworm-positive pet by adopting or fostering, please bring one home when you can,” Katrine said. “The process of treating heartworm is not as difficult as it used to be and you’ll be helping a pet that really needs you.

Heartworm disease can be fatal. Annual testing and monitoring are essential because infected dogs can be successfully treated; the earlier, the better.