April is National Heartworm Awareness Month

YOUR Humane Society SPCA wants you to be proactive rather than reactive. An ounce of prevention is worth more than tons of cure with less risk to your beloved pets!

One of our newest Board members, Dr. Kelly Vernon, will be contributing valuable veterinary advice to pet owners, on a variety of topics throughout the year.

She will be starting with heartworm awareness, a topic that is especially important to those who are new to Florida and may not know that heartworm prevention is a year-round need.

As the weather continues to turn warmer and wetter, it will also bring out the dreaded mosquitos. And with the rise in mosquitoes, comes an increased risk of heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis, which spend part of their life cycle within the mosquito before being passed onto dogs, cats, ferrets and other mammals when they are bitten.

Heartworms damage the dog’s heart and lungs, causing symptoms such as cough, lethargy, weight loss, and eventual heart failure and death. It is worse for cats, where severe lung disease or sudden death may be the first sign.

Heartworm disease is now reported in all 50 states, but more prevalent in the Southeast due to our long seasons of warm weather. Year-round prevention is needed as the risk to our pets never subsides. Fortunately, prevention is quite easy these days, with many options available!

Most heartworm prevention products are administered monthly, with both oral and topical products available. There is also an injectable option now that only has to be given every 6 or 12 months. The preventative products are safe and effective, and there are options for every budget. Prevention is much less costly than treatment. Veterinarians can discuss what’s available and help you find the best product for the needs of your pet and family.

Since heartworm disease is a progressive disease, the sooner it is diagnosed, the less damage is done to the organs and the better chance of recovery. Annual blood testing with your veterinarian is recommended for all dogs. Testing in cats should occur prior to starting prevention if they have not been on a product, and then at intervals recommended by your veterinarian based on your cat’s risk.

If your pet tests positive for heartworm disease, your veterinarian can discuss treatment and perform other tests to assess for organ damage from the worms. Treatment typically consists of medications to reduce lung inflammation, and injections to kill the worms. Your pet will have to remain quiet during the course of the treatment to prevent heart and lung damage while the worms die.

Once treated, your pet should remain on heartworm prevention for the rest of its life. Remember, the easiest way to avoid your pet suffering from heartworm disease and your wallet from the cost of treatment, is to start prevention and continue it! Visit yhsspca.org/faqs for additional information for the wellness of YOUR pets.