Heartworm disease is prevalent throughout the United States. Many factors exist which cause rates of infection to vary year to year and state to state. Because risk factors are impossible to predict due to fluctuating conditions, pets should be given heartworm preventive 12 months a year.

Heartworms are foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of infected pets. Serious and sometimes fatal, heartworm disease can result in severe lung disease, heart failure and potentially cause damage to other organs. Carried by wild animals including coyotes and foxes, which live in close proximity to domesticated pets, heartworms pose a serious threat to dogs and cats.

Mosquitoes carry heartworms from infected animals to those not infected. Because of this, mosquitoes are essential in the life cycle of heartworms. After biting an infected animal, mosquitoes carry microscopic baby heartworms called microfilaria which develop into larvae within 10 to 14 days. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, they deposit these dangerous larvae onto their skin. The larvae find their way into a dog or cat’s bloodstream through broken skin due to the bite. If a dog or cat is not on preventive, these larvae are allowed to develop into mature adult heartworms.

A natural host for heartworms, dogs are very susceptible to disease. Mature heartworms live up to 5 to 7 years in dogs. Heartworm disease damages the heart, lungs and arteries of affected dogs. Because heartworm disease can severely impact a dog’s health and quality of life, heartworm preventive is absolutely necessary to protect dogs from this insidious disease.

Cats experience heart disease quite differently than dogs. Because they are an atypical host for heartworms, most heartworms do not reach the adult stage in cats. Therefore, heartworm disease is more likely to go undiagnosed in cats. However, even immature worms cause tremendous damage. A condition called HARD, or heartworm associated respiratory disease, can adversely impact the health of an infected cat. Because of this, heartworm preventive is also absolutely necessary to protect cats from heartworm disease.

There are two types of heartworm medicine for dogs including those that prevent infection and those used to treat heartworm disease. It is important to note, heartworm medication used to treat heartworm disease does not work in cats. This fact makes heartworm preventive even more important.

Preventive medications come in a broad array of options including chewables, topical solutions as well as injectables. The choice you make for your pet can depend on several factors. Working with your veterinarian to determine which medication is most optimal for you and your pet is appropriate.

Should your dog become infected with heartworm disease there are treatment options. The goal of treatment is to kill the adult worms damaging your dog’s heart, lungs and arteries. However, this treatment is costly and requires many visits with your veterinarian over several months. In addition, dogs undergoing heartworm disease treatment must be kept quiet and avoid exercise throughout the course of treatment.

Don’t let your pet be at risk of heartworm disease. Talk to your veterinarian about which heartworm preventive is best for your pet and you.