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As a pet owner and veterinarian, heartworm disease sounds especially awful to me.

Who wants to think about their beloved pet suffering from the presence of a tubular parasite living in the heart and blood vessels?

Heartworm disease is common in the U.S. and is one of the most life-threatening infectious disease affecting pets. Fortunately, it’s a very preventable disease provided pet owners partner with their veterinarians to provide routine diagnostic testing and preventative medications.

Let’s cover the basics of heartworm disease and its diagnosis and prevention.

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm refers to Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic nematode (roundworm) that definitely does not belong in your dog’s body.

There are four classes of heartworm disease (Class I-IV), which cause clinical signs increasing in severity with progression of class.

With Class I, your pet may show no clinical signs or could just exhibit a mild cough.

As the disease progresses through Class IV, pets will appear more-obviously ill and can show decreased appetite, weight loss, unkempt appearance and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.

Sometimes you don’t know if your pet has heartworm disease until it becomes more advanced, which is why it’s crucial to team with your veterinarian to regularly be aware of your pet’s status (hopefully negative) and to focus on prevention of the spread of heartworm disease.

How is Heartworm Disease Spread?

Heartworm is spread by the bite of a mosquito. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, as the parasite enters mosquitos only after feeding on the blood of a heartworm-positive animal.

Additionally, not all animals carry heartworm disease. Heartworm positive pets or carriers like coyotes, feral cats, seals, and other wildlife are potential sources for mosquitos to pick up the parasite while taking a blood meal.

Dogs can’t directly spread heartworm disease to each other, but an infected pooch can serve as a carrier and potential source of infection for other dogs in the household. If a mosquito comes along and bites the positive dog in a household and then bites the other dog in the household, then transmission can occur.

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