It’s a beautiful, sunny, Thursday morning. You sit down at the table in your breakfast nook with a cup of coffee. As the sunlight shines in through the spider plant hanging in the window, you open up the San Diego Union Tribune, and see the headline, “Heartworm infection a growing threat for San Diego pets.” The article explains that a perception persists that certain parts of America have heartworm disease, and others do not, but that is no longer the case. Heartworm disease is a problem throughout the U.S., including San Diego.

The call to action? Ensure your pet is tested yearly for heartworm disease, and receives prevention year-round. 

At that moment, Elvis, your beautiful persian cat, jumps on the table and sits on top of the newspaper. He is particularly radiant today, with the sunshine reflecting off his white fur. 

“I guess we should get you and the new puppy tested for heartworm, Elvis,” you say. Elvis calmly looks you in the eye, as if he understands. 

You also need to visit Otay Pet Vets for your puppy’s first vaccinations, so you call to make an appointment. “Dr. Anderson would be happy to look Elvis over, and test him and the new pup for heartworm infection,” the receptionist says. The appointment is booked. 

A week later, you take Elvis and your new puppy to see Dr. Anderson, who checks them both. “Your babies appear to be in great health,” Dr. Anderson says. “Since your puppy is only 2 months old, he isn’t old enough for a heartworm test yet, and we will test him at 7 months of age. Elvis, my old buddy, looks in great health.” Elvis sits on the exam table, watching Dr. Anderson, and also the puppy, who is running around the exam room sniffing excitedly.

“I am so glad you made this appointment,” Dr. Anderson continues. “In an unpredictable world, we cannot do a lot to really protect our loved ones, but you can protect your puppy and Elvis from heartworm disease, which can be deadly. The pup will need protection because he will be going outside daily for potty breaks, but indoor-only cats should also be tested and protected, because disease-transmitting mosquitoes can easily get inside your home. Your proaction will help keep you, your new puppy, and Elvis happy and healthy for years to come.”

What is a heartworm?

Simply put, heartworms are a type of parasitic worm transmitted through a bite from an infected mosquito mostly in dogs, although cats can become infected, too. In dogs, heartworms, which can grow to 12 inches long, live in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and can cause heart and breathing problems, and clotting issues.

Heartworm-infected dogs and cats can look physically normal, but may show signs such as lethargy, exercise intolerance, or abnormal breathing patterns. Severe heartworm infestation in dogs can lead to serious, sometimes fatal, disease. Cats generally are infected with only a few heartworms, with most in their lungs, which often leads to sudden death. Heartworm disease is difficult and painful to treat, and prevention is by far the best option for protecting your furry friends. 

How is heartworm disease prevented in pets?

You would always want to prevent your children or your family from getting sick if you could, wouldn’t you? Fortunately, heartworm disease is entirely preventable in pets. Heartworm prevention medications, which must be administered to your pet monthly, are available in oral and topical forms. Also, a new prevention product, an injection that can prevent heartworm disease for six or 12 months, has recently been introduced. 

At Otay Pet Vets, we recommend monthly oral Heartgard or Trifexis, or injectable Proheart 6 for dogs, and topical Revolution and oral Heartgard for cats. Heartgard products are different for cats and dogs, and you must always ensure you use the right medication. Heartgard for dogs should never be given to cats. 

Elvis tested negative for heartworm disease. Five months later, the puppy, now named Buddy—short for Buddy Holly—also tested negative. You are thrilled that your babies are safe, and you have the power to protect them from at least one terrible illness. You find out a few months later that a neighbor’s cat tested positive for heartworm disease. 

“I am so glad I protected my pets,” you think to yourself. 

We are enthusiastic about ensuring your pets live a long, healthy life. Along with vaccines to prevent the preventable, we recommend a yearly physical exam, yearly heartworm testing, and year-round heartworm and flea and tick prevention medication for all dogs and cats. Make an appointment with our team, so we can help you choose the best prevention medication for your pet, and help ensure their good health.