A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jun 20, 2010

The Heartbreak of Heartworm Disease

Heartworm - a disease potentially fatal to dogs and cats - is now a local problem as more and more cases have been contracted in our area. It is a worm that embeds in the pet's heart or lungs and is spread by the Western Treehole Mosquito. Endemic to humid and tropical climates more hospitable to the breeding and thriving of mosquitoes, California, a desert, has been relatively free of this problem. Consequently, we do not consider Heartworm testing and prevention as part of our routine veterinary care for our pets. This has to change. Originally, hurricane Katrina was blamed for the local cases as many of those rescued pets had the disease or were carrying it. This is only partially true. When spcaLA accepted Katrina animals we knew to test and treat for it so as not to accidentally put an infected pet into the population. The better explanation for recent cases is simply, that, people travel with pets, import them, or buy them via the internet, to and from places where Heartworm resides, and bring the problem here.

Heartworm can afflict both dogs and cats and is fatal if not treated in time. Lethargy, weakness, respiratory difficulties, coughing, gagging, and vomiting are some of the typical symptoms. Testing,  preventative drugs, insect repellents, and common sense precautions can prevent the illness. Start by talking to your veterinarian about what is right for your pet. Then - keep your environment free of mosquitoes by being mindful of standing water, using repellents, and window screens.   As mosquitoes do come inside, indoor pets are also at risk!

Prevention and early detection are your best friends in keeping your friends for life healthy and safe.

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