Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm that lives inside the heart and blood vessels of pets’ lungs. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and, if left untreated, is a slow death sentence.

How do I know if my dog OR CAT (yes, they can get heartworm) has the disease? As the number of heartworms increases, coughing, lethargy, exercise intolerance, lack of appetite, and weight loss become more apparent. The worms enlarge the heart and make pumping oxygen to the lungs more difficult. Heartworm disease has been found in all fifty states, though it is more prevalent in the southeast (that’s us!!!) and along rivers. Studies by the American Heartworm Society (AHS) have found that heartworm infections are increasing across the United States. Another global warming trend?

Heartworm disease is most commonly diagnosed using blood tests. Once a year, at your annual pet check-up, you need to insist on blood work. The fact is that treatment is expensive, time-consuming, and has risks.

For these reasons, the goal should always be prevention rather than treatment of this horrible disease. This slow death is 100% preventable. If your animal is not on prevention, the mosquito that bites it transmits heartworm to the next animal.

Heartworm preventative medications are available from your veterinarian in many forms: oral, topical, and injectable. In addition to protecting your pet from heartworm disease, many heartworm preventatives also protect your pet against other internal parasites. It’s a win-win!

Don’t be afraid to adopt a pet with heartworm, either. Some organizations can help you save that furry friend. It’s preventable, it’s treatable, and it’s a death sentence if no one steps up.

Angie Whitlock is Grant Director and past president of the Newnan-Coweta Humane Society. You can reach her at grants@nchsrescue.org.