Skip to main content

As we step into National Heartworm Awareness Month, it’s crucial to shine a light on one of the most prevalent yet preventable diseases affecting our beloved pets: heartworm disease.

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that reside in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of affected pets. These parasites can lead to severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in dogs, cats, and ferrets.

Transmission and Life Cycle

Heartworms are primarily transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes. When a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae bites a pet, the larvae enter the bloodstream and migrate to the heart and adjacent blood vessels, where they mature into adult worms over several months. These adult worms can produce offspring, known as microfilariae, perpetuating the cycle when another mosquito bites the infected pet.

Heartworm Lifecycle Infographic from Zoetis

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of heartworm disease may vary depending on the severity of the infection. In dogs, common signs include coughing, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and weight loss. Cats may exhibit respiratory distress, vomiting, lethargy, and sudden collapse. However, some pets may show no apparent symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly.

Diagnosis typically involves blood tests to detect the presence of heartworm proteins (antigens) or microfilariae. Additionally, imaging techniques such as chest X-rays and ultrasound may be used to assess the extent of organ damage.

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention is key in combating heartworm disease. Several safe and effective preventive medications are available, including monthly oral tablets, topical solutions, and injectable formulations. These preventives work by killing the immature larvae before they can mature into adult worms.

Treatment for heartworm disease can be complex and costly, particularly in advanced cases. It often involves a multi-step approach, including medication to kill adult worms, anti-inflammatory drugs to manage symptoms, and strict rest to minimize complications.

Heartworm Disease Difficulties with Cats

Heartworm disease in cats presents a unique challenge in terms of treatment due to the lack of approved medications specifically designed for feline use. Unlike in dogs, where preventive medications and treatment options are more readily available, managing heartworm infection in cats often focuses on symptom management and supportive care. Typically, treatment in cats aims to alleviate clinical signs and prevent further complications rather than directly targeting the heartworm parasites themselves.

It’s crucial for cat owners to work closely with their veterinarians to monitor their pet’s condition and follow recommended treatment protocols. However, despite the challenges, early detection and prompt intervention can significantly improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for cats affected by heartworm disease.

Importance of Annual Testing

Annual heartworm tests not only detect the presence of heartworm disease but also serve as a proactive measure in safeguarding your pet’s health and well-being. Even pets on preventive medication should undergo annual testing, as no prevention method is 100% foolproof. Detecting heartworm infection early allows for timely intervention and treatment, preventing the disease from progressing to a potentially life-threatening stage.

Furthermore, annual testing helps veterinarians assess your pet’s overall health and tailor preventive care plans accordingly. By prioritizing annual heartworm testing, pet owners demonstrate a commitment to ensuring the longevity and quality of life of their furry companions. 


As responsible pet owners, it’s our duty to safeguard our furry companions from the threat of heartworm disease. By prioritizing preventive measures such as regular testing and administering preventive medications, we can ensure that our pets lead happy, healthy lives free from this potentially devastating illness. Let’s use National Heartworm Awareness Month as an opportunity to educate ourselves and others about the importance of heartworm prevention and encourage proactive veterinary care for our beloved pets.

Remember, at Family Friends Veterinary Hospital, we’re here to support you every step of the way in keeping your pet healthy and heartworm-free. If you have any concerns or questions about heartworm disease or preventive measures, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of dedicated professionals.

Together, let’s spread awareness and protect our pets from heartworm disease!

Leave a Reply