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Recognize Heartworm Awareness Month in April

Friday, March 30, 2018  
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Mosquito season is gearing up around the country, and with it an increase in the risk of mosquitos infecting pets with heartworm.  The Arizona Veterinary Medical Association (AzVMA) is reminding pet owners that April is Heartworm Awareness Month.


While April signals the start of mosquito season in many parts of the country, Arizona's great climate means mosquitoes can be found--and our pets are at risk--365 days a year,” says Dr. William Griswold of Priority Pet Hospital in Gilbert.  “Many pet owners think heartworm risk is low in Arizona, but data from the Companion Animal Parasite Council shows that dogs in the Copper State have infection rates similar to those from New England.  Heartworm disease is deadly, and many pet owners don't take the risk seriously because they don't believe we have mosquitoes in Arizona,” he added.


Heartworm infection is a devastating illness that is seen primarily in dogs, but also affects cats and ferrets.   It is spread by mosquitoes that become hosts to the parasite by feeding on infected animals and then pass on larvae to other animals.  Because mosquitos get into our homes, even animals that are strictly indoors are at risk for heartworm disease.  The infection results in worms, up to 14 inches long, living in the right side of the heart and arteries of the lungs.  The worms damage the arteries, leading to heart failure. 


The good news is that the disease is preventable with a variety of methods. Most of the products are either a liquid that is placed on the pet’s skin or an oral medication. Most provide protection for 30 days, so pets need to be re-dosed every month. The vast majority of pets don’t seem to mind getting their heartworm prevention, and many of them look forward to their monthly “treat.”  It is recommended to have animals tested for heartworm disease prior to starting preventative medication.


When dogs are infected, heartworms complete their life cycle from larvae to mature reproducing adults, which can result in hundreds of worms and extensive damage to the heart.


In the past, heartworm infection was found primarily in climates prone to mosquito infestation and wasn’t an issue for pets living in Arizona.  In the past 10 years, however, veterinarians here have seen more cases of heartworm, caused by a combination of more breeding areas for mosquitos (such as golf courses, irrigation puddles, stagnant pools) and heartworm being introduced into the state by relocated and/or traveling pets.  Coyotes, foxes and wolves, which may live close to residential areas, are also carriers.  

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