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Why is heartworm prevention so important?
Like many good pet owners, you probably diligently give your dogs and cats heartworm preventative pet drugs every month. You know these medications are important, and all vets urge owners to stay up to date on them, but do you know why? In honor of April as National Heartworm Prevention Month, here is what you need to know.
Heartworm medications prevent your pet from getting heartworm disease, an illness caused by a worm that mosquitoes can carry. When a mosquito bites your pet and sucks its blood, a tiny worm called microfilaria can be transmitted into the bloodstream. As the worm travels through the pet's body, it matures and can grow to be several inches long. It can then breed with other heartworms and produce more microfilaria, then are passed on through more mosquitoes.
If you live in a place with lots of mosquitoes, your pets are more at risk of contracting heartworm disease. According to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm disease is particularly prevalent in the southern United States, especially along the Mississippi River. Still, all pets should stay protected with pet medications like Revolution, Heartgard Chewables and Sentinel.
It can be hard to detect heartworm disease in its earliest stages, since the heartworms are so small. Many times, the number of worms may accumulate over a period of months and sometimes years. When it is advanced, though, it can be deadly. Many pets with heartworm disease cough or have difficulty breathing because the worms are in their lungs. They might also exhibit weight loss, lethargy or fainting.
If you suspect your dog or cat has heartworm disease, make sure you get it to the vet as soon as possible. If you skipped a few months on your heartworm preventatives, get your pet tested for the worms to make sure it didn't pick anything up. Blood tests and X-rays will usually show the worms. Blood tests show the tiny microfilaria, the presence of proteins from the adult worms or immune antibodies that have been released in the animal's body to fight the infection. X-rays show an unusually large heart that is expanded on the right side because it is full of worms.
Usually, veterinarians will test your pet for heartworms annually, since some heartworm medications can harm pets that already have an infection. Dogs can almost always be treated for heartworm disease, but there are currently no products approved in the U.S. to treat it in cats. That is why it is important to always remember to give your pet its preventative medication! Mark your calendar and slip the pill in Greenies Pill Pockets to make it a special treat.