Protect Your Pets: Everything You Need To Know About Heartworms

By Dr. Veja Tillman, DVM

One of the most common and devastating diseases for your cats and dogs is also one of the most preventable. Heartworm disease is a parasitic infection found in cats and dogs that is spread by mosquitos. As you may know, our local climate is ideal for mosquito populations—that is why protecting your pets from this disease is extremely vital if you live in or visit Southwest Florida.

Mosquitos carry the immature or larval form of the worm and transmit them into a host animal through a mosquito bite. Research shows that up to 20% of mosquitos carry heartworms and more than 50 cases of heartworm disease are diagnosed each year in the average veterinary clinic.

Once a host is infected, the heartworms will enter your pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels and will eventually cause severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body regardless of age. Science proves that dogs are more susceptible to being diagnosed with heartworms but this disease is also found in a variety of animals including foxes, coyotes, panthers, raccoons, opossums and others.

A pet may not show immediate signs of illness if they are infected as adult heartworms can survive 5 to 7 years in most dogs and several months in cats. The most common signs that an animal does have heartworms include: coughing, lethargy, vomiting, decreased appetite and difficulty breathing.

If a pet owner does not test, treat, and take actions to prevent this disease an animal can experience great distress or even death. The good news is that there are treatments and even medication that will eliminate the dangerous threat of heartworms.

Your pet should be examined by a veterinary specialist once a year to test for heartworms and other ailments. To diagnose a dog, your vet will conduct a simple blood test. For cats, testing is more difficult and a series of different tests may be needed to determine if heartworm infection is present.

When it comes to treatment, prevention is the best option. Heartworms are almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats. Medications are available that actively prevent heartworms, your veterinarian will be able to decide the best medical solution for your pet. Several FDA-approved heartworm preventatives are available in a variety of formulations including oral monthly tablets, topical solutions, and injections.

If your animal is confirmed to have heartworms, there are treatments available. The goal is to kill the adult heartworms in the safest way possible.

If you have additional questions or concerns regarding your pet and the potential impact of heartworms—or any other veterinary need, the doctor and staff at Just 4 Pets can help. Just 4 Pets Wellness Center located in Fort Myers, Florida, is dedicated to the well being of your pet, from wellness exams, vaccinations, and preventative medicine to treatment and prevention of parasites. Dr. Veja A. Tillman and her veterinary team is committed to providing exceptional veterinary care in a friendly and comfortable environment. Visit or call (239) 270-5721 to make an appointment.

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