April is National Heartworm Awareness Month

Dog being given heartworm medicine

Is Your Pet Protected from Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm, a life-threatening parasitic infection, sickens dogs, cats, and ferrets in all 50 states. Like many diseases, heartworm is much easier to prevent than treat. National Heartworm Awareness Month, held every April, offers a timely reminder of the devastating health effects of heartworm disease.

How Do Pets Get the Disease?

Heartworm disease is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected animal and then bites your pet. Heartworm larvae are circulated through your pet's body via the bloodstream and eventually become immature or mature worms.

After traveling through your dog's body for months, the larvae begin to grow into long, white worms that look like cooked spaghetti. Those that reach the blood vessels of the heart and lungs cause the most damage.

Male heartworms measure 4 to 6 inches in length, while females may be as long as 10 to 12 inches, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA notes that dogs can be infected with one to 250 worms. Each worm can live 5 to 7 years.

Cats are more likely to be infected with immature worms, although some cats do have a few mature worms. Even immature worms can affect your cat's health, causing serious breathing difficulties.

In ferrets, one or two heartworms settle in the pulmonary artery in the heart. As the worms grow, the heart becomes dangerously enlarged.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?

Symptoms don't usually occur during the early stages of infection. As the worms grow, your dog may start to cough, seem abnormally tired after mild to moderate exercise, eat less, lose weight and have trouble breathing. Eventually, the infection can cause a swollen abdomen, abnormal lung sounds, collapse or death.

Cats infected with heartworms may develop heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). When immature worms reach the small arteries in the lungs, an inflammatory response occurs that damages the air sacs, arteries, and small airways, according to the Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine.

An infected cat may have difficulty breathing or breathe rapidly. Other signs and symptoms include a disinterest in food, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, gagging, collapse or death.

Symptoms in ferrets also include loss of appetite and weight loss, in addition to coughing, shortness of breath, vomiting, swelling in the abdomen or chest, heart murmur and fatigue. If heart damage is severe, ferrets may suddenly collapse and die.

How Is Heartworm Disease Treated?

Treatment varies depending on the animal. Dogs receive medications that kill mature and immature heartworms and reduce inflammation. The treatment can take a toll on your pet's body, particularly if your dog's health is already fragile due to the infection. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the worms. Even if heartworm surgery is successful, the damage to your dog's heart, lungs, and organs will be permanent.

Medications that kill heartworms aren't safe for use in cats. Instead, your pet may receive drugs that will reduce inflammation, antibiotics, cardiovascular medication or oxygen therapy if breathing becomes difficult. In severe cases, surgery may also be recommended to remove the worms.

Many of the medications and treatment strategies used to treat heartworm infections in cats can also be used for ferrets. Unfortunately, medications that kill heartworms will also kill your ferret.

How Can Heartworm Disease Be Prevented?

Oral, topical, and injectable heartworm medications reduce your pet's heartworm risk. Your veterinarian can help you decide which type of medication is best for your pet. Oral and topical medications must be given or applied every month, while injectable medication protects your pet for six months.

It's best to give your pet heartworm medication year-round, even if you live in a cold climate, as mosquito season may not always follow the same pattern every year. Providing constant protection ensures that your furry friend will never have to face this debilitating disease.

Does your pet need a prescription for heartworm medication? Contact our office to schedule a convenient appointment.

Sources:

U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Keep the Worms Out of Your Pet's Heart! The Facts About Heartworm Disease

American Veterinary Medical Association: Heartworm Disease

American Heartworm Society: Heartworms in Dogs

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Heartworm in Cats

PetMD: Heartworm in Ferrets

Call to schedule your pet's wellness or urgent care exam now: (952) 758-6722

Testimonials

  • We have been clients of New Prague Animal Care for over 13 years. They have provided exceptional and compassionate care for our “pack” (6 dogs and 3 cats). As a professional dog trainer, breeder of Best in Show and Master Hunter Retrievers as well an owner of multiple kennel/ doggy daycare facilities (30+ years), I have worked with numerous veterinary clinics both in the Twin Cities and nationwide. Dr. Steve and his crew rate among the finest I have worked with. The clinic has all of the fea

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  • My dad has taken all of his dogs there for years, and I take mine there as well. Dr. Lavalle's bedside manner is amazing, and his staff are so genuine and caring. I always have, and will continue referring people to take their pets here. They are hands down the best veterinary care in the area!

    - Amber C
  • Have taken our dogs to Dr. Lavallee for over 10 years and he is great with each of them. He and his staff are very caring and helpful.

    - Barb S
  • Middle of a snow storm a few days ago. My little puppy was injured. I live in Faribult. Vet offices were closed in town. They actually called me while in route to see if I was ok. They were so good with the puppy. The cost was very reasonable. Called today to see how everything was going. I really was very impressed with this office. I recommend this place.

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  • Awesome experience! My pets love the care they get from Dr. Lavallee and his staff! They are not just a number; they care for them like my babies are family! Would highly recommend them!

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  • Found a 6-wk old kitten on the side of the highway and brought it in at 7pm on emergency basis. I was blown away by the compassion of Dr. Johnson's team. What a great experience. True animal people!

    - Anna H
  • Moved to New Prague and found this place for our dog.. Such great service, friendly staff, amazing Dr. and very accommodating to all of our needs!! Highly recommended by my pet family!!!

    - Kerri N
  • We love New Prague Animal Care, they are always so kind and caring, from the phone calls to when you walk in. We take our Siberian Husky Bandit in and he gets so much attention, well loved. We've had to take him in twice for emergencies, the in house testing was great, Dr. Johnson was able to resolve the issue almost immediately. I wouldn't take him anywhere else.

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