Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world.

Dogs are seen as a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, heartworm prevention for dogs is very important and treatment – when needed should be administered as early as possible.

Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage (American Heartworm Society).  Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the tolling effects of heartworm disease.

How is heartworm transmitted? The mosquito plays an essential role in the heartworm life cycle. When a mosquito bites and takes a blood meal from an infected animal, it picks up these baby worms, which develop and mature into larvae.

When the infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or wild animal the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animals skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound which is how the heartworms formulate. Because of the longevity of these worms, each mosquito season can lead to an increasing number of worms in an infected pet.

Did you know? Once mature, heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. 

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To prevent a heartworm infection, we recommend that all dogs and cats should be on a monthly heartworm preventative such as Sentinel or Revolution.  All puppies and kittens should start a heartworm preventative regimen around 8 weeks of age and continue that regimen year round for their entire life. Heartworm preventatives are available by prescription only and are not available over-the-counter.

All dogs over one year of age are required to have an annual exam with a heartworm test in order to purchase heartworm prevention. All cats are required to have an annual exam in order to purchase heartworm prevention.