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April is Heartworm Awareness month, making it the perfect time to brush up on heartworm facts while also making sure your pets are protected from what can be a very serious and life threatening issue.  

What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic worm transmitted by mosquitoes. If your pet is bitten by a carrier mosquito, microscopic larvae are deposited into the bloodstream, eventually taking up residence in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Without treatment, these worms can grow to 12 inches in length, eventually causing irreversible damage to the lungs and heart. Note that it only takes one bite for a dog or cat to be infected, and if your pet is not on prevention medication, your pet will contract the disease. Furthermore, just because you have an indoor pet does not mean there is an absence of risk.

The good news is that this disease can be avoided. There are a variety of heartworm prevention medications for both cats and dogs, and they are proven to be very effective when administered responsibly and correctly. However, if your pet has already contracted the heartworm disease, treatment is only available for dogs. Sadly, there is not yet an approved treatment for heartworm positive cats, which makes feline heartworm prevention essential.

Over 20 different species of mosquitoes carry the parasite according to the American Heartworm Society, and they are active at different times of the day and year. Your pet should be on prevention ALL year round.

If your canine is heartworm positive, treatment takes a few months to complete. The treatment consists of a series of injections, and once administered your pet will be heartworm free. However, even if your canine has been successfully treated, your pet could contract the disease again. Prevention is imperative.

If there is a chance your animal is infected, get your pet tested. Heartworms can live for months before symptoms present themselves, and when they do show up they can often be attributed to other ailments. This means that many pet parents have no idea their animal is heartworm positive.

Over 1 million dogs in the U.S. currently have heartworm disease, with the average number of dogs heartworm positive dogs increasing since 2013. This number does not take into account animals not regularly tested or seen by a vet.

Fortunately, heartworm tests are quick and convenient, and in honor of heartworm awareness month, the VBSPCA low cost medical clinic is offering a discounted Heartworm package, including 50% off heartworm tests with the purchase of six months of preventative. If you qualify for our services, call the clinic to schedule your appointment and get your pet tested. You can reach the clinic by calling 757-427-0070 and selecting option 2.

This article relied on information provided by the American Heartworm Society. Visit their website for more information.