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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Frequently Asked Questions About Heartworm Disease

Frequently Asked Questions About Heartworm Disease

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  • What is heartworm disease?
  • Is heartworm disease serious?
  • How can I tell if my pet has heartworm disease and can it be treated?
  • How do I protect my pet against heartworm disease?

What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a mosquito-borne parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the microscopic parasite larvae can enter into the body tissues and eventually end up in the heart. Once there, the parasitic worms can grow up to 12 inches long.

Is heartworm disease serious?
Yes! Heartworms can cause permanent and life threatening heart, lung, and liver damage. Dogs are at the most risk for this disease. However, cats, ferrets and several other mammals can be infected.

How can I tell if my pet has heartworm disease and can it be treated?
Often, pets may show no obvious signs until significant damage to the heart and lungs has already occurred. Most veterinarians can perform a quick, easy screening test for the disease while you wait. Treatment for existing heartworm disease is available, but can have some very serious side effects. Luckily, this is a preventable disease.

How do I protect my pet against heartworm disease?
Prevention is the best, safest and least extensive medicine. After testing to rule out a pre-existing infection, a monthly dose of heartworm preventative will keep pets parasite-free. Many heartworm preventatives also control intestinal parasites. Some even help control fleas.
If your pet is not currently receiving heartworm preventatives, a veterinary examination is recommended right away.

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