Heartworm Awareness

Prevent heartworm disease in your dog

Heartworms are very different from intestinal parasites, such as roundworm or hookworm, that your dog or cat can get from eating contaminated feces or soil.  Heartworms are passed by mosquitoes and live in your pet's heart and other organs.  If not treated, heartworms can gradually cause serious damage and even death.  For this reason it is called a silent killer.  

While intestinal parasites can be treated relatively quickly and easily, the treatment for heartworm disease  is much more serious and complicated.  It is also much more expensive, costing many hundreds of dollars and in some cases $1,000 or more.

The key to combating heartworm is prevention!  A simple blood test and then regular preventative will keep your pet heartworm free. If your pet is not currently on a regular (often monthly) preventative, prescribed by a veterinarian, she is not protected.

Heartworm disease facts:
  • Canine heartworm disease develops when a dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying microscopic heartworm larvae (juvenile worms) of a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis.
  • Clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as heartworms tend to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years after repeated mosquito bites.  Recently infected dogs may exhibit no signs of the disease. 
  • Heavily infected dogs may eventually show clinical signs which include persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, tiredness after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss.
  • Very active or working dogs can show the above clinical signs of disease with only a few worms present.
  • Severe cases of the disease may lead to heart and lung failure, most often recognized by a "swollen belly" caused by accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
  • "Caval Syndrome," a form of liver failure, is also a potential serious complication, causing dogs to become weak very rapidly and turning their urine dark brown. This is a life-threatening situation that prompts surgical removal of the worms.
  • Heartworm can be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
  • Treatment for heartworm disease is expensive, lengthy, and traumatic.
Heartworm disease prevention tips:
  • There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in dogs, including  monthly tablets and chewables and monthly topicals.
  • All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented.
  • Puppies should be started on heartworm prevention at 8 weeks old following a physical exam.
  • Testing begins at 6 months of age.
  • Annual retesting is strongly recommended by veterinarians.
  • Heartworm preventative is only available by prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
  • In dogs over 6 months old, a negative heartworm test and physical exam are required for preventatives to be prescribed.
  • Pet owners should discuss the proper product selection for their pet and dose timing with their veterinarian.
Heartworm disease in cats:
  • Feline heartworm disease develops when a cat is bitten by a mosquito carrying microscopic heartworm larvae (juvenile worms) of a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis.
  • For cats, as for dogs, clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as heartworms tend to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and after repeated mosquito bites.
  • Cats may exhibit clinical signs that are very non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases.
  • Chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss. This syndrome is known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).  Infected cats may die acutely without allowing time for diagnosis or care.
  • There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in cats, including daily and monthly tablets and chewables and monthly topicals. All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented.
  • Pet owners should discuss the proper product selection for their pet and dose timing with their veterinarian.
Myths about heartworm disease:

MYTH: Heartworm prevention is optional.
FACT:  Your pets are at serious risk for heartworm disease, especially here in the South!  Heartworm testing and prevention should always be included in your annual pet care plan.

MYTH:  Cats aren't at risk for heartworm disease.
FACT:  While the disease is different in cats than in dogs, your feline friends are at risk, too.

MYTH:  Heartworm disease is easy to treat with a pill that can be purchased at places like Wal-Mart and pet stores
FACT:  In dogs, treatment for heartworm is very involved and must be performed at a veterinary clinic.  In some cases, multiple treatments are necessary before the infection is cured.  In some cases the process can cost up to $1,000.00 or more!  No approved treatment exists for cats.

MYTH:  My dog or cat seems healthy.  I would know if he had such a deadly disease.
FACT:  Heartworm has been called a silent killer.  Pets often don't show symptoms until the worms have caused significant damage to their internal organs.  Some pets may die before an owner is even aware there is a problem.

MYTH:
  Prevention is expensive.
FACT:  Prevention can cost as little as $5 a month, which is cheap considering the alternative -- the expense of treatment or the heartbreak of the loss of your pet.

How can I help dogs with heartworm disease at the SHS?
Be a Guardian Angel!

Zeth, Duke, Katey, Oscar, Snowball, Sandy, Maggie, and many others were successfully treated for heartworm at the SHS Veterinary Clinic.  Treatment was paid for through our special Guardian Angel fund.  With these extra costs covered, each of these dogs was able to find a loving home.

The Guardian Angel fund was established by SHS staff, volunteers, and friends as a way to cover expenses for treatment above and beyond the regular veterinary services animals receive while in our care.

People often assume that because the Spartanburg Humane Society has an in-house veterinary clinic we also have the resources to treat all sick or injured animals regardless of their condition. In actuality, the financial demands of providing excellent care for nearly 7,000 animals a year and the extra cost of special veterinary treatments limit our ability to meet unique medical needs.

Through gifts ranging from $2.00 to $1,500 (yes, every dollar can make a difference), Guardian Angels have helped the SHS cover the cost of treatment for conditions like heartworm disease, which would otherwise be passed on to potential adopters.  Guardian Angels remove financial barriers to pets finding a good home. 

Make a donation to help SHS animals like Bear (pictured at the top of the page).

1(Courtesy of the American Heartworm Society)