A healthy dog on a walk.

April is Heartworm Awareness Month, which means we get to share some of our most important tips about heartworm prevention. If you’re considering getting a new puppy or kitten, or if it’s been a while since your pet last took his or her heartworm medication, it’s time for a refresher course on heartworm disease. 

What is Heartworm? 

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. Dogs and other canids are natural hosts for this parasite, and mosquitos are the vectors that spread it from dog to dog. Cats can get heartworms, too, but they’re less susceptible than our canine friends. As the name would suggest, heartworms live in your dog or cat’s heart. They also take up residence in the lungs and blood vessels, causing damage to your pet’s organs. 

There are four stages of heartworm disease in pets, and they’re marked by progressively worse symptoms: 

  • Class 1: Minimal symptoms, such as intermittent coughing, or no symptoms at all.
  • Class 2: Intermittent coughing and fatigue after exercise.
  • Class 3: Excessive tiredness after light activity, a sickly appearance, difficulty breathing, and signs of heart failure.
  • Class 4: Extreme sickness and collapse. The mass of worms is causing complete obstruction of blood flow to the heart, known as caval syndrome, and the dog requires emergency surgery to get a chance at survival.

Without treatment, heartworm disease progresses through these stages and is often fatal. For Class 3 or 4 heartworm symptoms, seek emergency medical care for your pet. If you notice any Class 1 or 2 signs of heartworm in your dog or cat, schedule an appointment at Sunrise Blvd Animal Hospital as soon as possible. 

Catching this disease early is crucial. Preventing it from affecting your dog in the first place is even better. 

How to Prevent Heartworm 

There’s only one way to prevent heartworm from harming your pet, and that is to give your pet heartworm prevention medication. This prescription medication should be given on time and as directed. Puppies and kittens can begin taking it at 6-8 weeks of age. If your pet has recently skipped a dose—or three—of heartworm medication or you’re adopting an older pet, bring them in for a heartworm test. 

Heartworm prevention medication doesn’t kill adult heartworms. Worse, it can be dangerous for your pet to take it if he or she is infected. Once the test comes back clear, you can pick up your pet’s prescription from our in-house veterinary pharmacy. If your pet does have heartworms, our veterinary team will begin treatment right away. 

Bring your dog or cat in for a heartworm test once a year. This will help us make sure that the preventive medication is working. It also helps us catch any infestations that happen as a result of inconsistent or skipped doses. To make sure your pet gets the correct dose at the right time, we strongly encourage you to set reminders on your phone. Keep in mind that heartworm prevention is a lot less expensive than heartworm treatment, which is often hard on your pet’s body. 

If you have any questions about how to prevent or treat heartworm, text (916) 758-9442 or call (916) 726-2334. We’re here to keep your pets happy, healthy, and heartworm-free.