When I moved back to the northeast in 2006 after finishing my veterinary degree in Georgia, I was surprised by the large number of client misconceptions around heartworm disease. The heartworm parasite (Dirofilaria immitis) is carried by mosquitoes and injected into your pet's bloodstream by a single infected bite. Inside the blood vessels, the worms can grow up to a foot in length and can cause severe damage to vessels, lung tissue, and the heart. If untreated, overtime, heartworm disease is often fatal.
Many people believe that their pets are not at risk in our area, as opposed to the warmer south, where the disease is alarmingly common. While it is true that heartworm disease is less common in the northeast, the American Heartworm Society found that most veterinary practices in the state of New Jersey see anywhere from 6-25 cases of heartworm each year! In fact, heartworm disease has been found in every state in the continental US. Another misconception is that heartworm disease only impacts dogs. Unfortunately, our cat patients are also at risk for heartworm disease, even if they never go outside. How often have you had a mosquito in your house? I know I definitely see them indoors in the summer, much to my dismay. While the disease course, diagnosis, and treatment for cats is different than dogs, this is still a disease that can cause significant health problems for our feline friends. Finally, many people feel that their pets are not at risk for heartworm infection during the winter months. While it is true that the risk of transmission is less in the winter than it is in the summer, it is still a possibility, especially when we look at periodic winter days with temperatures in the 50s.
The great news in all of this is that heartworm disease is easily preventable in both dogs and cats! There are several oral and topical prevention options that only need to be given as a single dose once a month. It couldn't be easier! Whether down in Georgia or back here in Jersey, I use heartworm prevention religiously with my pets. I hope you do the same!
Please visit the American Heartworm Society website for more great information about heartworm disease. https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources