This problem is caused by a worm that lives in the heart. The worm is
spread by mosquitoes when it is very small and once introduced into the
body of the dog or cat by the mosquito, it grows into an adult. The
worm(s) presence causes irritation and can cause an allergic-like
reaction. Most individuals with heartworms will develop heart and lung
disease. These diseases can be life threatening. Although the disease
can be prevented easily by a once a month medication, once the disease
is present, it is very serious for the pet. The treatment to kill the
worm is potentially very hard on the pet as well. Although cats are
much less likely to develop heartworm infestation, even if bitten by an
infected mosquito, they tend to have more dramatic and more serious
problems, and diagnosing the disease in cats can be very difficult.
many areas of the United States and even California have been hotbeds
of infection with heartworm, this area has always been one where we
felt the disease did not exist, but lately, several dogs have been
diagnosed with the disease that had to have been exposed locally.
Because of this, we are recommending testing and the use of
preventative medication in your pets, even if they do not travel out of
this area. The risk may not be high that your pet will be exposed, but
if it is, the consequences can be serious. If you do take your pet(s)
to other areas, especially mountain areas or Central or Northern
California, it is especially important to protect them from this
disease causing parasite.
The test is a blood test
that looks for antibodies to the presence of the heartworm. Once your
pet is exposed to heartworm, it can take several months for the test to
show positive, even though worms are present. If your pet has
potentially been exposed to heartworm by having been in a high risk
heartworm area, it may be necessary to wait awhile to test them or may
require repeating a test several months later to be on the safe
side.Testing for microfilaria as well can help pick up some of these
infections. It is important to test your pet prior to starting
heartworm medications because if your pet already has the parasite, the
preventative medication will not kill the existing worms and they will
continue to cause heart and lung damage until properly treated.
it is easy to prevent heartworms in our pets, treating them is
expensive and risky, as the treatments are often very hard on the pet,
and any heart or lung damage already present will be permanent.