Heartworm Disease

Heartworm Disease

Spring is in the air! The weather is getting warmer and we are starting to head towards those summer months. With the warmer weather comes the flowers blooming, pools being opened, longer days outside, summer vacations, and also those annoying bugs come back from hiding away for the winter. Mosquitos are one of those bugs. Possibly even the most annoying of the insects to come out in the warmer months. April is National Heartworm Prevention Month, so this blog is to inform you of all of the basics of Heartworm in dogs and cats. Many people still only think that heartworm is a concern in the southern U.S. which sadly is incorrect. Heartworm is found in all 50 states and that is why EVERYONE that owns furry friends should be knowledgeable about the basics of heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease is a serious and even fatal disease that can affect dogs and cats. This disease is caused by worms that infect the blood and live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels. This infection can cause heart failure, lung disease and cause other organs in the body to be compromised.

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquito bites. Mosquitos get infected by biting animals that have been infected with heartworm and currently have the baby worms or microfilaria living in their blood stream. When that infected mosquito bites another non infected animal the baby worms enter that animal by the bite wound.

The life cycle of heartworms simplified:Mosquito bites infected animal. Baby worms that are now in the mosquito develop into infective larvae stage over 10-14 days. Infected mosquito bites non-infected animal. Larvae are transmitted to non-infected animal through mosquito bite wound. The larvae then live in the tissues for around 2 months while developing. The adult worm is now living in bloodstream and heart for the next 4-5 months while it reaches full maturity. Mature worms now live in heart and bloodstream and can start producing larvae that can now infect another mosquito. Mosquito bites the now infected animal and the life cycle repeats.

Heartworms can live for 5-7 years in dog and 2-3 years in cats. Once an animal is infected with heartworm it can take months for symptoms to appear.

Canine symptoms you may see could be the following:

  • mild persistent cough
  • reluctance to exercise
  • fatigue after mild activity
  • decreased appetite
  • weight loss
  • swollen abdomen(extra fluid)-severe cases
  • caval syndrome-blockage of blood flow-severe cases

Feline symptoms may include:

  • coughing
  • asthma-like attacks
  • periodic vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • difficulty walking/fainting
  • fluid accumulation in abdomen

Diagnosis is made by a blood test looking for heartworm proteins. Cats are harder to diagnose and usually require a special blood test and even ultrasound/x-rays.

While it is true that the southern states are more known for heartworm infections solely because the temperature is warmer longer periods of the year. Warm weather = mosquitos. Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in every state of the US. The incidence for heartworm has grown dramatically in the last 5-10 years.

Current recommendations is year round heartworm prevention for all dogs and cats in all states. There are many options for preventives. The ones that we use at AHDC are-Heartgard (dog), Interceptor (dog), and Revolution (cats/dogs). These preventives also protect against certain intestinal parasites. Revolution also protects against fleas, and some ticks in dogs.

Testing should be done for heartworm disease every year, or before restarting prevention if a dose was missed. Even if your pet is on a preventative year round, testing should still be done to be sure of product effectiveness of prevention. Testing can be done at the vet office with a small amount of blood and results are available in as little as ten minutes! Some of the companies that sell preventatives will pay for all or a portion of treatment cost if proven that animal is on year-long prevention with no missed doses and has yearly testing documented in their medical records. Some of the medications can be harmful to animals that have active heartworm infections, which is why testing is required if doses are missed.

Treatment for heartworm is very expensive and required to prevent death from large worm burdens. Sadly there is no treatment approved in cats-the only way is prevention! Treatment can range in cost from $1200-$2000, and includes bloodwork, x-rays, multiple injections, oral medications, and many, many vet visits. When comparing cost of treatment vs cost of prevention there should be no question! Prevention is usually less than $300 for a whole year of protection. Prevention is the way to go!

As you can see it’s a little difficult to condense all the information of heartworm disease into a short blog, but all the information is extremely important and we want everyone to be fully educated! If interested in more information on preventions we have available, please contact our office to help your pet be the healthiest they can be!


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Meet Our Team

  • Dr. Bob  Sarsfield Photo
    Dr. Bob Sarsfield
    Veterinarian in Harrisburg, PA The chief medical officer and owner and has been with the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County since 1979. He started out working in the kennel and then attended Penn State University, which he graduated from in 1985. He received his DVM from Purdue University in 1989. His professional areas of interest include feline and canine medicine and surgery, ultrasound, and low level laser therapy. Contact the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County today and make an appointment ...
  • Dr. Heather  Balmer Photo
    Dr. Heather Balmer
    Dr. Heather Balmer (Zanes) is lead exotics veterinarian and has been with the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County since 1999. Dr. Balmer first worked as a kennel assistant and then as a veterinary technician assistant. She received her undergraduate degree from Juniata College and her VMD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Balmer was raised in Penbrook but currently lives with her husband, Matt, and grandmother in Hummelstown along with their four-legged ...
  • Dr. Kelly  Allen Photo
    Dr. Kelly Allen
    Dr. Kelly Allen joined the staff of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in 2011. She is a graduate of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA. She enjoys talking to clients about their furry family members. Dr. Allen has a keen interest in animal behavior and enjoys helping new dog and cat owners as they experience the joy (and sometimes frustrations) of introducing an animal into the family. She lives with her husband, Todd, son, ...
  • Dr. Jennifer  Fletcher Eckenrode Photo
    Dr. Jennifer Fletcher Eckenrode
    Dr. Jennifer Fletcher Eckenrode, CCRT joined the staff of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in 2011. She attended Colorado State University where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Microbiology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Originally from Boston, Dr. Fletcher grew up in Michigan. She has lived in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, and even Perth, Australia. She lives in Mechanicsburg with her husband (also a veterinarian!) and daughter, their Heeler-Lab mix, Colbie, ...
  • Dr. Audrey  Zajac Photo
    Dr. Audrey Zajac
    Dr. Audrey Zajac joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in July, 2013. Dr. Zajac enjoys house calls and is currently our only vet who performs them twice weekly. She became interested in animals at a young age, spending her summers working on her grandparents’ dairy farm and riding horses at 12 years old. Dr. Zajac attended King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and headed off to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, ...
  • Dr. Whitney  Wolfgang Photo
    Dr. Whitney Wolfgang
    Dr. Whitney Wolfgang joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in June 2016. Growing up in Hummelstown, PA, Dr. Wolfgang always knew she wanted to work with animals in some capacity. Early in her college career, she fell in love with veterinary medicine. She graduated from Towson University in Maryland with a dual degree in Biology and Animal Behavior. She traveled to South Africa for a veterinary experience with local community outreach and wildlife veterinary medicine. Dr. Wolfgang earned ...
  • Dr. Jamie  Putt Photo
    Dr. Jamie Putt
    Dr. Jamie Putt is a native of Harrisburg, PA. She obtained her B.S. in Animal Bioscience from Pennsylvania State University in 2001. She attended veterinary school at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and obtained her D.V.M. in 2005. Dr. Putt is a current active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry, the mission of which is to educate the public about the importance of oral health in animals. Her special ...
  • Dr. Jennifer  Starvetsky Photo
    Dr. Jennifer Starvetsky
    Dr. Jennifer Starvetsky joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in August, 2020. A transplant from Georgia, Dr. Starvetsky attended Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee. Previously, while working toward her BS at Georgia Southwestern University, she has worked in most positions in a veterinary hospital as well as volunteering at the local zoo near her undergrad. She enjoys working with dogs, cats, and exotic pets (including reptiles and birds) as a general ...
  • Dr. Coby  Rudakewiz Photo
    Dr. Coby Rudakewiz
    Dr. Rudakewiz is an associate veterinarian and has been with the Animal hospital of Dauphin County since 2020. Dr. Rudakewiz started working in the veterinary field as veterinary assistant before starting school. She received her undergraduate degrees from Gettysburg College and her DVM from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2019. Dr. Rudakewiz grew up in Hershey, PA and wanted to return to area to continue her career in veterinary medicine. In her free time, Dr. Rudakewiz enjoys ...
  • D F
    Dr. Melissa Fisher
    Dr. Fisher grew up in northern New Jersey with many cats, hamsters, birds and her dog Tre, spending most of her time outdoors. After graduating Delaware Valley University in 2016 with a degree in Small Animal Pre-Veterinary Medicine she spent 2 years as a veterinary technician and supervisor in New Jersey while pet sitting/walking part time. In her spare time, Dr. Fisher played rugby for the Doylestown Dragons before heading to vet school. After graduating from Ross University of Veterinary ...