You know that saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” If there was a disease to which this phrase most pertains, it is heartworm disease. Just like it sounds, heartworm disease is a dangerous condition in which worms set up an infestation in a dog or cat’s heart. Contrary to popular belief, the Pacific Northwest is not free of heartworm disease. In 2016, an average of 20 cases of heartworm disease was diagnosed per clinic in the Portland/Vancouver region alone. Due to changes in climate and the moving of stray animals to Washington from Texas, Mexico, Southern California and other areas of the southern United States, we are experiencing heartworm disease with an ever-increasing incidence.
Dogs and cats contract heartworm disease by being bitten by a mosquito carrying microscopic heartworm larva in its saliva. When the mosquito bites the animal, it injects a small amount of anti-coagulant impregnated saliva to help the pet’s blood from clotting, and with it, any heartworm larvae currently living in the mosquito. These larvae then travel through the animal’s blood into its heart, where the larvae live and develop into adults.
A dog or cat can take up to six months between being infected with heartworm disease and showing symptoms of the infection. Symptoms include coughing, difficulty exercising, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite and weight loss. If left untreated, heartworm disease can cause heart failure and death.
Luckily, there are preventatives that can be given monthly in order to protect your pet against heartworm disease. We recommend monthly administration of a heartworm preventative in addition to a quick annual blood test to ensure your dog or cat shows no signs of a developing heartworm infection. Preventing heartworm disease can be as inexpensive as $60 a year, while the treatment for heartworm disease can cost thousands of dollars, and is potentially fatal if treatment fails.
For these reasons, my dog never misses a dose of her heartworm preventative (and it comes in a tasty chew form too)! During your pet’s next annual exam, please ask about heartworm disease and the best preventative for your pet.