Enemies approaching: Is your pet protected from heartworms?

  • Published
  • By Capt. Christina Elder, DVM
  • Offutt AFB Veterinary Treatment Facility

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month! Is your pet on heartworm prevention? Do they need to be on heartworm prevention year-round? What’s the big deal about heartworms anyway? Let’s clarify.

Heartworm disease in both dogs and cats is transmitted via mosquito bites. It has been reported in all 50 states and remains a consistent issue, especially in more Southern states where it is warmer and mosquitoes are more prevalent. Depending on your pet’s travel or adoption history, this could increase their risk to developing heartworm disease.

Most pets with active heartworm disease do not have any clinical symptoms. It becomes a life-threatening issue when the heartworm load becomes overwhelming and obstructs the flow of blood in the heart. This eventually results in congestive heart failure and can even result in blood clots in the lungs. If your pet becomes tired on walks easily, has a blue tinge to their gum color, or has a consistent cough while resting, these could all be signs of significant heart disease that could be due to heartworms. Cats most often die from heartworm disease, but it can be treated in dogs. Unfortunately, the treatment is quite intensive and dogs can die from the harshness of the treatment itself.

More than one million pets in the U.S. have heartworms, but the good news is that heartworm disease is preventable! Both dogs and cats have monthly prevention options that are easy to administer. Our clinic carries Heartgard for dogs and either Revolution or Bravecto Plus for cats. Heartgard is a chewable tablet given to dogs once a month. Bravecto Plus is a liquid administered on the skin between the shoulder blades in cats every other month.

If your pet is not on prevention any given month, you are running the risk of them developing heartworm disease (and other parasitic diseases as well!). Sure, the risk is much lower during the winter months when mosquitoes are gone, and I understand if you choose to only have them on prevention during the warmer months (above 65 F). Please know the risk is still there, especially if you travel.

Bonus tip: If you do give prevention year-round and your pet still develops heartworm disease, the company will pay for all treatment. Another bonus tip: both Heartgard and Revolution/Bravecto Plus cover a variety of other internal and external parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and ear mites. Score!

As Benjamin Franklin aptly put it, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This couldn’t be truer for heartworm disease. Make the right choice and put your pet on heartworm prevention. Their hearts will love you for it!

Capt. Christina Elder is an Army veterinarian working for the Offutt AFB Veterinary Treatment Facility. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article, or if you would like to schedule an appointment for your pet, please call the clinic at 402-294-6141. The clinic is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. (closed from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. for lunch). Appointments are available for any active duty or retired military personnel.

We hope to see you and your furry friend soon!

No federal endorsement of products intended.