It is finally spring here in Vancouver, with the change in season comes longer days, beautiful blossoms, warmer weather and an increase in the parasite population. April is Heartworm Awareness Month; the aim is to raise awareness about the disease, as well as to give you all of the tools you need to protect your four legged friends against these pesky bugs.
Heartworm is one nasty parasite which can affect a multitude of animals such as dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses. It’s a very serious disease caused by a large worm, Dirofilaria Immitis, which may reside in your pet’s heart and adjoining vessels. If left untreated it can result in lung disease, heart failure, organ damage and death. Although the disease can prove to be a challenge to treat, the good news is that it is very easy to prevent.
Heartworm is transmitted through mosquitoes; an infected mosquito bites an uninfected host (a dog or cat) and transmits larvae into the subcutaneous tissues. As the larvae mature, they begin to infect the muscles and blood vessels eventually reaching the heart. Adult worms mate and produce larvae which are released into your pet’s bloodstream. An uninfected mosquito then bites an infected host, ingesting the larvae and thus continuing on this nasty cycle. The tricky thing about heartworm is that the infected animal shows almost no symptoms until the disease has progressed. Some signs of heartworm disease can be similar to congestive heart failure such as coughing, weight loss, and exercise intolerance, but many cases may never show any signs of disease.
So who’s at risk for heartworm? Fortunately here in Vancouver there is an extremely low chance of contracting the disease. The mosquitoes who carry the heartworm disease like warmer environments. The Okanagan Valley is the only area in B.C where the disease is prevalent. Other areas at risk are Southern Ontario and Quebec, Winnipeg, Southern Manitoba, anywhere in the South East, Mexico, Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Central Washington State. Many of these areas in the U.S require year round protection, while in Canada the heartworm season is typically May to October.
When it comes to heartworm disease, prevention really is the best defence. Treating an infected pet can be both costly as well as dangerous. If you and your pet travel to any of the heartworm areas, ensure your pet is on a monthly treatment that includes heartworm prevention. Have your pet tested annually for heartworm, a simple blood test that yields results within 10 minutes.
If you are unsure if your pet is at risk for the disease don’t hesitate to visit your veterinarian for more information. Please contact our Vancouver Animal Hospital today to make an appointment.