If you’re like us at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, you have a little reminder on your calendar to give your pet their monthly heartworm prevention medication. But, do you know why it’s so important for your pet’s health? Heartworm disease is a parasitic cardiovascular and respiratory condition that can cause serious, debilitating disease when left untreated. Think your pet doesn’t need heartworm prevention? Read on to get the facts, and ignore the fiction about heartworm disease and pets.

Fact or fiction?: Heartworm disease isn’t that serious

Fiction. An infected mosquito that bites your pet transmits tiny, juvenile worms known as microfilariae. Over time, usually around six months, these worms feed off of your pet and develop into large, adult worms that find a cozy home in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. As the worms reproduce and grow, they take a physical toll on your pet, resulting in signs such as increased respiratory rate, coughing, exercise intolerance, and weight loss. Pets with heavy worm burdens may eventually sustain a blood vessel blockage and subsequent cardiovascular collapse. So, in short, heartworm disease is extremely serious, especially when not promptly treated. 

Heartworm is only found in certain parts of the United States

Fiction. While some U.S. areas are considered “heartworm-endemic,” such as Southeast Texas, Louisiana, and along the Mississippi River, heartworm continues to be diagnosed in all 50 states, according to the American Heartworm Society president. In fact, parts of Virginia saw more than 100 heartworm disease cases in 2019. 

Cats can’t be infected with heartworm

Fiction. While it’s true that the feline species is an atypical host for heartworm disease, and they do not tend to have large adult worm infestations, cats can still get sick from a heartworm infection and suffer long-lasting respiratory disease. Dogs, however, are a natural host.

Heartworms can be passed from pet to pet

Partial fiction. While heartworm disease cannot be directly transmitted from dog to dog, with the help of a tiny mosquito, the parasite can readily infect other pets or animals. 

Heartworm does not affect humans

Partial fact. Fortunately, heartworm disease does not commonly affect humans. Infection is possible but rare, and humans are not considered an important disease carrier. 

A heartworm infection can have long-lasting effects

Fact. Despite prompt treatment, the physical burden of a heartworm infection can have deleterious effects on the heart and lungs, possibly resulting in lifelong cardiovascular or respiratory signs. This is why preventive medication is so important!

Heartworm disease is easy to prevent

Fact. Fortunately, a plethora of safe, effective products are available to prevent heartworm disease in pets. From monthly chewable tablets, to topical solutions, to long-lasting injections, there is a preventive medication for every pet—both feline and canine. 

My pet hardly goes outside, so they don’t need heartworm prevention

Fiction. If you’ve ever been bitten by a mosquito inside your home, you know that heartworm can be transmitted indoors. Of course, the infection risk is greater for pets who spend time outside, but we encourage you to work with our veterinary team to find a prevention solution that works for your individual pet.

My pet receives year-round heartworm prevention, but they should still be tested once a year

Fact. No medication or treatment is fool-proof. That’s why heartworm screening tests are recommended each year to ensure your pet stays heartworm-free. Additionally, most table-side heartworm tests also screen for a variety of tick-borne diseases. If your pet receives only seasonal heartworm prevention, yearly testing is all-the-more imperative. 

Heartworm disease requires lengthy, expensive treatment

Fact. Heartworm disease is not only debilitating and uncomfortable for your pet, but also requires lots of cage rest, veterinary appointments, injections, and potential surgery for severe infestations. These treatments are often spread out over several months, requiring a dedicated owner and potentially hefty veterinary bills. While you may hesitate to shell out funds each month for preventive medications, the cost of preventive care—along with your pet’s comfort—are infinitely worth it. 

For more information on the heartworm life cycle, disease signs, and treatment, consult the American Heartworm Society website. Need to get your pet tested for heartworm or stock up on prevention medications? Contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital today.