Protect your pet from heartworms this winter


By Stephanie Hartsfield, D.V.M.


      Now that winter is upon us, it is important to take extra precautions for your pet.  Most people know to provide their pet with a warm shelter and fresh water, but few people realize that pets need to remain on a heartworm preventative medicine during winter months.

      Heartworms are transmitted from one animal to the next by mosquitoes.  Heartworms are found in foxes, wolves, coyotes, dogs, cats, and ferrets.  One mosquito can inject up to eight baby heartworms into an animal.  Once the heartworms mature, they live in the heart and lung field of the animal.

      An infected dog may show signs of coughing, exercise intolerance, labored breathing, anorexia, and weight loss.  An infected cat may show signs of vomiting, and some cats may have trouble breathing.

      Your veterinarian can easily diagnose heartworms in dogs and cats using a blood test.  After a positive heartworm test, your veterinarian should perform a comprehensive bloodwork test and take x-rays to establish severity of the disease.  During treatment, a dog must be kept calm to prevent an embolism from forming in the lungs.  While there was no treatment for cats previously, some universities are now surgically removing heartworms from cats.

      Even though more common in the summer, mosquitoes are found year-round in North Alabama.  Veterinarians recommend that your pet stay on heartworm preventative medicine all year and receive a heartworm test yearly.

Heartworm disease is a very traumatic, often deadly disease.  It can be treated; however, it is much less expensive to prevent it.  So donít forget to give your pet its monthly or daily heartworm preventative this winter.