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What to know about heartworm disease
Heartworm disease is one of the most serious conditions that pets can get. These worms are carried by infected mosquitoes that can then transmit them to your animal with one simple bite. Knowing all the facts about heartworms and heartworm disease can help you better protect your dog or kitty this summer and throughout the entire year.
How are heartworms spread
Heartworms are carried by infected mosquitoes when they are immature and called microfilariae. Once an infected mosquito bites an animal, the microfilariae are released into the dog or cat's bloodstream where they create stress and damage the blood cells and vessel walls. As they move they cause clotting and narrowing of the blood vessels, leading to a rise in the animal's blood pressure. As the blood pressure goes up, the heart must pump harder and faster to get the blood through the damaged vessels, leading to heart failure over time. During this time, the microfilariae have set up shop in the animal's lungs and heart, where they breed and grow. Untreated heartworms can live between 3 and 5 years in a host.
Signs of a heartworm infestation
Because heartworms prefer to live in an animal's heart and lungs, signs of an infestation can include the dog or cat coughing more or seeming short of breath. Other pets may act lethargic and less playful, while some animals will suffer from weight loss due to a loss of appetite for pet food, fainting and blood clotting problems. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should bring your pooch or kitty to the vet immediately as heartworm disease can be life-threatening.
How to protect your pet against heartworms
Heartworm disease is a serious concern, but there are ways to keep the problem at bay. The most effective way to prevent heartworm disease in your animal is to start and keep it on monthly heartworm, flea and tick preventative pet drugs. Medication like Revolution and Sentinel work to keep all three parasites away, while products like Frontline Plus repel fleas, ticks and chewing lice.
Your dog or cat will need to take a blood test before starting heartworm medication to check for potential existing heartworms already in their bodies. Giving preventative medicine to a dog or cat that is already infected with the disease can actually cause more harm. Once your vet gives you the OK, you can start giving your pup or kitty its monthly medication to prevent harmful heartworm disease.