One of the most common diseases pet owners hear about is heartworm disease. In Memphis and across the southeastern United States, heartworm disease is incredibly common. In fact, approximately 50% of dogs that enter the shelter system in Memphis are heartworm positive.
While you’ve likely heard of heartworms, you may not know a lot about this dangerous disease. Dr. Manspeaker, the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County’s resident veterinarian, has important information to share that will help you keep your animal safe from heartworms.
What is heartworm disease and how is it transmitted?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, heartworm disease is a parasitic infection that mostly impacts dogs, cats and ferrets. It is a vector-borne disease, which means it is spread through contact with an organism that carries the disease. In the case of heartworms, mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae and transmit them into an animal’s bloodstream when they’re bitten by an infected mosquito. After the larvae enter the animal’s bloodstream, they travel throughout the body until they reach the animal’s lungs. Once there, the larvae mature and grow, causing painful and serious medical complications for the host animal. This is the stage when a heartworm infection officially becomes heartworm disease.
How do I know if my dog has heartworm disease?
Once an animal’s heartworm infection has moved to the point of heartworm disease, symptoms of illness can range from mild coughing to exercise and heat intolerance, pale gums, abdominal swelling from heart failure, difficulty breathing and ultimately death. If your animal is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate veterinary attention.
How is heartworm treated?
Heartworm disease treatment is a lengthy and expensive process – and it can be painful for the infected animal. Once an animal is diagnosed with heartworm disease, the animal will undergo diagnostic testing to determine treatment eligibility, start a regime of oral medications to stabilize the heart and lungs for treatment and receive painful injections to kill the adult heartworms. In addition to the treatment, your pet must be restricted from play or exercise for a minimum of 2-3 months. This is why it is so important to take appropriate measures to prevent your animal from contracting heartworms.
What can I do to prevent heartworm?
This is the great news – heartworm disease is preventable! During your animal’s regular veterinary appointment, your vet can test for heartworms using a blood sample. Your vet will also provide options for heartworm preventive care – ranging from chewable treatments, to topical ointments and even a vaccination. Based on your animal’s needs and your budget, your vet can share which option will be best for you.
The Humane Society’s mission is to provide shelter, food and medical care for thousands of injured, neglected and abused animals. This includes heartworm treatment for all of the animals that are heartworm positive at the time they enter our shelter. Every day, we place loving, heartworm-positive animals into their forever homes, and we continue their heartworm treatment at no cost to the adoptive families. It is our hope that no animal should unnecessarily suffer with this deadly disease.