What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is caused by a blood-borne parasite that affects the heart, lungs, and neighboring blood vessels. Heartworm is dangerous because an infection may go unnoticed for years due to the delayed onset of clinical signs. Furthermore, it can be fatal if allowed to progress without intervention. At Elkhorn Veterinary Clinic, we’ve seen the effects of this disease firsthand and are strict advocates for year-round, veterinarian-prescribed heartworm prevention.

Is your pet protected from heartworm disease? Request an appointment to have them tested so you can keep them on another full year of prevention.

Sad german shepherd dog lying on a bed looking away.

How Do Pets Become Infected?

First, a mosquito ingests heartworm larvae when it takes a blood meal from an infected host. When a mosquito carrying these larvae takes a meal from a healthy host, it transfers the larvae into the host’s bloodstream.

Heartworms need mosquitoes as intermediate hosts before they can continue and complete their life cycle in a dog or cat. It takes approximately 6-7 months for the infective larvae to develop into adults inside their new host and produce more offspring. The average adult heartworm can live for about 5 years.

Why is Heartworm Disease Life-Threatening?

When infective larvae mature into adults, the females can grow to roughly 12 inches in length. As they reproduce and increase their numbers, the heartworms begin to block the major blood vessels leading to and from the heart. This reduces the blood supply to the body’s organs and forces the heart to work much harder. Over time, reduced blood flow to the organs and overexertion of the heart can be fatal.

Clinical Signs

Common signs associated with heartworm disease include:

  • Chronic coughing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weakness/decreased stamina
  • Fluid buildup in the legs and abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia

Clinical signs are not usually evident until the disease is well advanced. Treatment is time-consuming, costly, and stressful for the patient, and there is currently no treatment option for cats. Prevention is ultimately the best medicine, and our team is dedicated to helping your pet avoid infection.

Sad dog lying on ground.

Preventing Heartworm Disease

Pets should start on heartworm prevention as soon as possible. We can help you choose the right preventative and the right time to get started. Additionally, we recommend screening your pet for heartworm once a year. Mosquitoes are active virtually all year-round, so we strongly advise giving your pet their monthly or tri-monthly preventative throughout the entire year, every year.