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Q: What is heartworm disease?

Posted May 07, 2013 in Advice Column, Des Moines West

A: Spring brings with it the return of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease is caused by the parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes The disease affects the heart and lungs if not treated it can cause death.

Symptoms. Pets may not show signs of heartworm disease until the disease is advanced. As the number of heartworms increase the symptoms also increase. They are coughing, lethargy, exercise intolerance and even death.

Who is at risk? Heartworm disease is in all 50 states. Heartworm affects dogs, but it can also affect cats. How is it diagnosed? Heartworm disease is diagnosed using a blood test in both dogs and cats.

• How is it treated? Treatment is a series of intramuscular injections, hospitalization and strict confinement to limit exercise for many weeks. Treatment is expensive, time consuming and has serious risks. The goal should always be prevention rather than treatment!

• Prevention. There are many forms of prevention: oral, topical and injectable. In addition to protecting your pets from heartworm disease, many of the heartworm preventatives also protect your pet against other internal parasites. So you are getting heartworm protection for your pet and peace of mind that your pet has not picked up parasites like roundworms that can be transmitted to other pets and even humans. Before starting preventative medications on pets older than 6 months, have your veterinarian test them for heartworm infection. Serious complications can develop if an infected animal is started on preventatives.

For more information and how you can protect your pets, talk to your veterinarian about heartworm disease.

Information provided by Dr. Nancy Peterson, Ingersoll Animal Hospital, 3009 Ingersoll Ave., 650-2770.

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