Heartworm Basics

April is Heartworm Awareness Month – a month dedicated to raising awareness about heartworm basics and the danger heartworms pose to our pets. With North Georgia being considered a high-risk area, it’s important to be educated on all of the facts surrounding heartworms and heartworm prevention.

What makes Georgia a high-risk area?
Its hot and humid subtropical climate is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, the vessel in which heartworms are transmitted.

How are heartworms transmitted from mosquitos to pets?
The following graphic demonstrates how heartworms are transmitted between pets. As you can see, once an infected dog is bitten by a mosquito, that mosquito then carries the heartworm larvae through the blood it ingested. While inside the mosquito, the larvae develops into an infective stage. When the newly-infected mosquito finds its next target and bites it, the heartworms are then successfully transferred to that animal. This cycle continues until the infected animals receive proper treatment.

What are the signs and symptoms of heartworms?

  • Mind persistent cough
  • Inactivity/lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fainting
  • Swollen Abdomen

So, what do you do if your pet is infected by heartworms?
For cats, there is currently no way to treat heartworms, which makes heartworm prevention extremely important, as it is the only way to protect your feline companions. Missing even one dose of preventative heartworm medication can leave your pet vulnerable to infection.

For dogs, while treatment is possible, it can be a long and potentially dangerous process. During treatment, any amount of activity can stimulate the heartworms and cause complications, which may be fatal.

How do I keep my pet safe?
Heartworm prevention is the best way to keep your pet safe. Owners should stay vigilant about recognizing the signs/symptoms of heartworms in pets, as early detection can prevent a potentially fatal situation. Even after being treated in dogs, prolonged exposure to heartworms can cause lasting damage, so it is vital to catch this disease as early as possible.

The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia’s (HSNEGA) Pet Wellness Clinic offers low-cost heartworm testing and prevention. For a list of available services and heartworm prevention options click HERE. Questions about HSNEGA’s available services and prevention products? Email HPC@HSNEGA.org.

Resources

American Heartworm Society, https://www.heartwormsociety.org/

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