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National Heartworm Awareness Month Focuses Attention on a Potentially Deadly Disease

dogs and a cat outdoors where they susceptible to mosquitos

Is Heartworm Prevention Necessary?

It's much easier to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat it. Although pets that spend time outdoors are at increased risk of mosquito bites, it only takes a second for a mosquito to fly through an open door and bite your indoor cat. Prescription preventive medications, available for both cats and dogs, offer a simple way to protect your pets.

Before prescribing preventive medications, your veterinarian will test a sample of your pet's blood. Blood testing is necessary to ensure that your pet isn't already infested with the worms. If preventative medications are given to a pet that has active heartworm disease, complications can occur.

Preventive medications are available in pill, topical liquid or injections forms. Pills and topical liquids are monthly treatments, while injections prevent your pet from heartworm for six months. Because heartworm preventive medications are only available by prescription, it's important to make annual veterinary checkups a priority. A delay of a just a month or two can put your pet at risk of developing this deadly disease.

Heartworm disease can have a devastating effect on your pet's health. National Heartworm Awareness Month, observed annually in April, reminds pet owners about the health dangers this preventable disease poses for pets.

What Are Heartworms?

Thin, white heartworms look like cooked pieces of spaghetti. Male worms range in length from 4 to 6 inches, but females can grow as long as 12 inches. Heartworm disease is spread when a mosquito bites an infected animal and later bites another animal. The bite deposits tiny heartworm larvae into the animal's bloodstream. It only takes about six months for the larvae to mature into fully grown worms. Once the worms are mature, they begin to mate, producing even more heartworms.

Why is Heartworm Disease So Dangerous?

Heartworms invade your pet's lungs, heart and blood vessels and cause permanent damage that can shorten your furry friend's life. The disease is more dangerous in dogs than cats because fewer worms grow to adulthood in cats. A dog can be infected with more than 200 heartworms, although the average is 15 to 30. Cats may only have a few mature worms or might only be infected with immature worms. Heartworms can live five to seven years in dogs and two to three years in cats, according to the American Heartworm Society.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?

In the early stages of the disease, there may be no obvious changes in your pet's health. As the worms grow and multiply, you may notice that your dog begins to cough. Their cough will gradually worsen as the disease progresses, and you may also notice that your pet tires easily and has difficulty breathing. A large number of worms in a dog may trigger a condition call Caval syndrome. The syndrome occurs when a bundle of worms prevents blood from flowing back into the heart. Emergency surgery is necessary to prevent death.

Coughing and a decrease in activity is common if your cat has heartworm disease. Other possible symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite and weight loss. You may notice that your cat isn't quite as active as usual.

Even if your cat only has immature worms, its health can still be affected. Heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD), a common problem in cats with heartworm disease, occurs when your pet's lungs become inflamed due to the death of immature worms. If your pet has HARD, it may cough, wheeze and have trouble breathing. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell the difference between HARD and feline asthma.

How Is Heartworm Disease Treated?

Drugs are available to kill both mature and immature heartworms in dogs. Because the medications are very strong, they can cause blood clots and other complications, in some cases. Your dog will also require frequent tests during heartworm treatment, such as blood tests and X-rays.

The medications that kill heartworms in dogs are too strong for cats. Instead, your vet may recommend medications that treat your pet's respiratory and heart symptoms. Corticosteroids can be used to decrease inflammation, while bronchodilators will help your pet breathe easier.

Is your pet protected from heartworm disease? Call us today to schedule your furry friend's checkup and blood test.


Sources:

American Heartworm Society: Heartworm Basics

https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Keep The Worms Out Of Your Pet’s Heart! The Facts About Heartworm Disease

http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/resourcesforyou/animalhealthliteracy/ucm188470.htm

American Kennel Club: What Dog Owners Must Know About Heartworm

http://www.akc.org/content/health/articles/heartworm-in-dogs-symptoms-diagnosis-treatment/

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Heartworm in Cats

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/health_information/Heartworm.cfm

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    I love Balboa Pet Hospital! Balboa Pet Hospital's staff is amazing! The staff is knowledgeable, caring and above all honest! I feel confident that my pets are getting the best possible care there. The staff has always taken time to answer all of my questions and if I think of something after my appointment, I can just email! I know I won’t have to wait too long for response.

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    LOVE everything about this place!!! The people are all super nice & caring. I never feel like they’re trying to sell me stuff I don’t need. The vets (especially Dr. Alice Chan) are wonderful, I always fee; comfortable coming here whenever Walle has an issue. They even help me file the insurance claims after each visit! Would highly recommended any pet owners to see them for their fur-baby needs.

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    My dog has been a regular patient since 7 years ago. Once in a while we visit other hospitals due to time conflicts. However, we always go back to Balboa Pet Hospital. My dog has bad allergy and the doctors and assistants always follow up with us after the treatments or visits, help us submit the insurance claims. It’s not a cheapest place to go but their patience and caring are irreplaceable.

  •           4/28/2017

    I’m glad to have found Balboa Pet Hospital near my home. It’s definitely a hidden gem! Dr. Chan saw my dog, Oreo, for her skin problem last week, and my three cats, Pepper, Tofu and Cola, today for annual check-up. She’s very patient (especially with Oreo who’s shy to strangers), knowledgeable and approachable. The front staffs are also very friendly and helpful. They are so prompt to reply my email (within a few hours when I checked back my mailbox). All my pets are about 1-year-old and I’ll definitely bring them here for their health issues/checkup in many years followed.

  •           5/4/2017

    Brought my dog here for a checkup and some minor concerns. Dr. Chan was very professional. She got my dog the treatment he needed and answered all my questions regarding my concerns. The rest of the staff were very friendly and gentle with my dog. You could tell that the staff are genuine animal lovers; definitely something you want when you entrust the health of your pet to someone.

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    Been bringing our animals to Balboa for over 25 years and will continue because they provide great advice and care. We love Dr. D and staff are really helpful and friendly. Now if I can find medical care for myself like my animals get at Balboa...

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    I have been a patron of Balboa Pet Hospital for almost 500 years now (wink). I love Everybody there and feel they are have always been a great resource and the BEST support system for everything pertaining to my pets.

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    The staff is very kind and gentle, the doctors are very caring and patient when dealing with my scared cat Lulu. I appreciate the time they took to put her at ease and making this procedure as painless as possible for the both of us. Will definitely be spreading the word. Thank you Balboa Pet Hospital.
     

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    San Francisco, CA

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