Heartworm Disease

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It is something we mention during every annual visit, “Do you need to purchase more Heartworm Preventive?”. It has become habit for most dog owners and some cat owners to give it to their pets monthly but do you really have a good grasp on what the disease is?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans.

I am happy to say that we only see between 1-2 positive heartworm tests a year in our patients. This is good! Your pet’s test comes back negative, you purchase more preventative, you remember to give it to your dog (almost) every month, and you don’t think about it until next year’s test. So is the disease even real? The answer is yes. While it is true that we rarely see positive heartworm tests in our patients, that does not mean we don’t see positive results.

Currently, we have three heartworm positive cases in our hospital. The difference? These dogs came from Detroit Dog Rescue. These are dogs that were rescued from the streets who nobody claimed or cared for. These are dogs that probably didn’t have a pet parent like your pet does. The truth is, preventative works!

Treating heartworm disease is not fun or cheap. It involves an injection into the lower lumbar muscle for two days in a row. This can be uncomfortable for the patient and often times pain medication is needed. Two weeks later a third injection of a different medication is administered. Two weeks after that a follow up test is performed. Then, strict restrictions on exercise are generally required for up to 6 months! That’s not easy for most dogs or their humans! hw-treatment-poster

Cats can get heartworm disease too! Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.

The fact is it is cheaper to prevent this disease than it is to treat it and your pet will thank you for sparing them the discomfort of treatment. Annual testing and year-round preventative is suggested for both cats and dogs.

If you have more questions about this disease, feel free to contact one of our knowledgeable licensed technicians or veterinarians who can help you decide which preventative is right for your pet.

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