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The Importance of Heartworm Prevention


Heartworms are a deadly disease for both dogs and cats, but they can be prevented with medication and mosquito control. Credit: Unsplash / CC0 Public Domain

April has been recognized as National Heartworm Awareness Month as a reminder to protect our furry friends from heartworm disease before the peak mosquito season during the summer.

To understand the importance of preventing heartworm disease, pet owners must first understand how heartworms develop and are detected.

How do heartworms spread?

Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes that bite an animal infected with heartworms and have picked up microfilariae, which develop into infective larvae in the third stage of their life cycle. The mosquito can then bite other animals and deposit third-stage larvae, quietly infecting unsuspecting animals with heartworms.

After infecting a pet, heartworms spend six to seven months developing into mature adult worms, at which point they produce detectable levels of antigen — a protein that comes primarily from adult female worms — and microfilariae — or young worms. A positive heartworm test depends on the presence of an antigen or microfilariae.

Because heartworms can only be detected months after infection, Dr. Maryam Saleh, clinical assistant professor of veterinary pathology at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, stresses that pets should not have holes in their worm prevention plan. heart to completely avoid infection.

“Even if a puppy becomes infected when it is just a day old, veterinarians will not be able to detect the antigen or microfilariae until the worms are at least six months old and sufficiently developed,” Saleh explained. “If vets don’t know if a pet is infected until six or seven months after infection, they can’t pre-design an intervention or treatment program. It’s better to just prevent the disease.”


Prevention begins with making sure your pet is put on a heartworm preventive plan.

“The best preventive measure is to make sure that pets are on a monthly or year-round heartworm prevention,” Saleh said. “If you are still concerned about a pet being bitten by mosquitoes, owners can also use insect repellents made for pets or window screens, if they have open windows, to keep mosquitoes from entering the home.”

However, Saleh stresses that insect repellents and window sprays are ways to add a layer of protection and should not replace heartworm preventatives.

Symptoms and testing

If the pet is not using heartworm preventatives, owners should look for signs of heartworm infection—such as coughing, lack of appetite, and weight loss—and most importantly, have their pet tested for heartworms as soon as possible.

“Heartworms have the ability to live in an animal and ideally cause a little bit of damage so they can reproduce,” Saleh said. “But if left untreated, heartworms will build up and cause multisystem heartworm disease—meaning multiple organs are affected, such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys—ultimately leading to the death of a pet.”

Saleh explained that testing a pet for heartworms is also required before a pet can take heartworm preventive medication.

If your dog tests positive for heartworm, it can be treated with a combination of injections given by a veterinarian called Adulticide; However, it is a long journey before a dog makes a full recovery.

“She doesn’t want to undergo adult heartworm treatment because it’s cruel to animals and expensive,” Saleh said. “Managing an injured animal until they recover is a lengthy process because they also need to be monitored while resting in the cage and exercise restricted.”

On the other hand, there is no approved medication for cats that test positive for heartworm, so prevention is especially essential to protect cats.

“Cats do not usually have adult heartworms that produce microfilariae, and while tests can detect microfilariae, cats often succumb to the disease beforehand,” Saleh said.

Because heartworm disease can be devastating, owners should keep their pets on preventive medicine so there is no risk of heartworm disease if they are bitten by an infected mosquito. Doing so will put you at ease knowing your furry friend is protected and healthy.

Provided by Texas A&M University

the quote: Heartworm Prevention Value (2023, April 21) Retrieved April 21, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-heartworm.html

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