Heartworm disease is spread via mosquitoes from one infected animal to another. It is a very serious disease that can result in severe and permanent heart and lung damage and, in advanced cases, even death.
It is caused by the blood parasite Dirofilaria immitis, with immature heartworms transmitted to healthy animals by mosquitos that have recently ingested blood from an infected animal. These take 6 months to develop in the bloodstream into adult heartworms, which then travel to the right side of the heart and pulmonary artery where they take up residence.
A single adult heartworm can grow up to one foot in length. There can be anywhere from a few to several dozen adult heartworms living in an infected animal’s heart. Without treatment, heartworm disease is almost always fatal.
Historically San Diego has not had a very high incidence of heartworm disease. Unfortunately, this has changed in recent years and we are now seeing a significant rise in the number of cases here. The increase has been traced back to Hurricane Katrina when hundreds of dogs were brought to shelters here, likely bringing the disease with them. San Diego’s coyote population also serves as a reservoir for the disease, thus making it impossible to completely eradicate.
Therefore, we now recommend testing all dogs for heartworm disease and then starting a monthly pill or spot-on preventative year round. In the case of a positive test, the treatment entails a series of injections to kill the worms. Dogs must be kept quiet during the ensuing 6 to 8 weeks which for most means confining them to a crate.
Depending on the extent of damage to the heart and lungs, the treatment itself can be dangerous, and in some cases, even fatal, making prevention of heartworm disease in our dogs so critical.
Cats, on the other hand, seem to be fairly immune to heartworm disease, as their immune systems are better able to fight off the infection. Some cats, however, do become infected and hence, if your cats are outdoors, you may want to consider putting them on a monthly heartworm preventative as well.
For the month of July, we are offering a 20% discount on all heartworm testing and preventatives. Take advantage of this special offer and get your dog tested today.
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