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Heartworm and Your Pet

Written Exclusively for Discover Downriver By Kimberly Cox, DVM, Southpointe Veterinary Hospital

With Spring upon us and Summer right around the corner, it’s time to get ready for heat, sun, fun and…..MOSQUITOES!   Besides being an annoyance, these little pests can carry a lot of illnesses that can be harmful to us as well as our pets. One very important disease in our pets is Heartworm Disease. This disease process starts with the mosquito bite. Once an infected mosquito bites a pet that pet can become infected with heartworm disease. Keeping them on monthly heartworm protection year-round will protect them from becoming infected.. Heartworm prevention can be given as an oral or topical medication.

If a pet is bitten by a mosquito that is carrying heartworm and is not on heartworm prevention, the pet can get heartworm disease. It takes approximately 5-6 months for baby heartworm to go through the life cycles and reach adulthood. Therefore, it takes 5-6 months after exposure for heartworm disease to be detectable on a heartworm test. It can take years before the pet will show outward signs of the disease. Without treatment, heartworm disease is fatal. Heartworm prevention works by killing any of the baby heartworm that the pet was exposed to the month before. It does not kill or treat adult heartworms. It is recommended that dogs be tested yearly for heartworm disease with a simple blood test that requires a few drops of blood. Results take about 10 minutes to get back if an in-house snap test is being used. If the test is positive, a confirmatory test will be sent to an outside laboratory for confirmation. If this test comes back positive as well, then heartworm disease is confirmed.

Heartworm disease can affect dogs, cats and ferrets. It is an easily preventable disease. For dogs that test positive treatment often involves an injectable medication that kills the adult heartworms thru a series of injections. For cats, the only treatment is surgery to remove the adult heartworms from the heart.

Clinical signs that can be seen with progressed disease include coughing, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, and congestive heart failure.   Because of the serious nature of heartworm disease, and because it is an easily and economically preventable disease, it is recommended that all dogs be kept on heartworm prevention year round and cats and ferrets be kept on it from Spring until Winter.

Dr. Kimberly Cox is the owner of Southpointe Veterinary Hospital.  She is a 2002 graduate of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Cox came to Southpointe in 1997, first working as a volunteer before vet school, then as a veterinary assistant during vet school, and finally as a veterinarian upon graduation.  She became a partner in 2007 and took over full ownership of  the clinic in 2010.