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posted: 3/25/2012 6:00 AM

Warm weather brings the threat of heartworm to our pets

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  • Pumpkin


  • Paddy


  • Symba


By Ellaine Kiriluk
The Buddy Foundation

This warm March weather is unbelievable. Yesterday, on the radio, a weatherman was asked if there were going to be more bugs this year due to the lack of freezing temperatures.

The reply was: "I can't say there are going to be more bugs, they may just come out earlier." That's a pleasant thought: a longer season for mosquitoes.

With that thought in mind, I called our veterinarian and made an appointment for my dog, Kasey, for his heartworm test and heartworm preventive. Both the American Heartworm Society (, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association ( provide information about the parasite and heartworm disease.

According to the organizations, heartworm is a preventable but serious and potentially fatal parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets. Heartworm has recently been diagnosed in about 30 species of animals in all 50 states and affects millions of indoor and outdoor pets. All dogs, regardless of age, sex or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm infections, notes the AVMA.

Heartworm can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes that are infected with heartworms. One bite and your dog (or other animals) can be infected. The cycle goes like this: When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms enter that mosquito's system. In the next two weeks, they develop into infective larvae inside the mosquito. Then the mosquito bites another dog or cat and the infected larvae enter through the bite wound.

Once inside the body, the heartworms develop invisibly within the animal, nesting and reproducing, lodging in the lungs and/or right side of his/her heart. The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in approximately six months. The larvae migrate through the animal's body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs. The immature worms continue to develop and grow into adults, with females growing to a length of 14 inches. The heartworms damage blood vessels and reduce the heart's pumping ability. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it's called heartworm disease.

If a dog is recently or mildly infected with heartworms, he may not show any signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in his lungs and signs of heartworm disease are observed. These signs include a mild and persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, lethargy, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, weight loss and difficulty breathing. Heartworms in the vital blood vessels of the lungs can cause death.

The AVMA reports there are numerous diagnostic tests available for your veterinarian to detect the presence of adult heartworm infection in your dog. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult female heartworms and antibody tests determine if your pet has been exposed to heartworms. The antigen test is most commonly performed and is very accurate in dogs.

There is an FDA-approved treatment available if your dog becomes infected with heartworms. There is substantial risk involved in treating a dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely in dogs that are in good health and when veterinarian's instructions are followed carefully.

The goal of heartworm treatment is to kill the heartworms present in your dog as safely as possible. When a dog is treated, it's important to consider that heartworms are dying inside the dog's lungs. Therefore, while your dog is treated, he will require complete rest throughout hospitalization and for some time following the first treatment. Also, other medications may be necessary to help control the body's inflammatory reaction as the worms die and are broken down in the dog's lungs.

Both the AVMA and the AHS report heartworm infection is almost 100 percent preventable. There are several FDA-approved heartworm preventives available including daily and monthly tablets and chewables and other formulations. Your veterinarian can recommend the best method of prevention based upon your dog's risk factors and lifestyle.

The AHS sums it up: "Heartworms -- agonizing to treat. easy to prevent." If you haven't already done it, get your dog tested and get the heartworm preventive. If you share your life with a dog, heartworm testing and giving him the preventive will keep him safe. He trusts you to do it for him.


Paddy is a male boxer/pug mix. He's about 9 months old and weights about 40 pounds.

Pumpkin is a male Chihuahua. He's about 2 years old and weighs about 8 pounds.

Symba is a male Akita mix. He's about 2 years old and weighs about 47 pounds.

• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, or online at

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