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  • Writer's pictureKatie

Don't let Heartworms Crash the Party! How to Keeping Your Furry Friend Heart-Healthy

Updated: May 13

Let's dive into something that's really close to our hearts – Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworm, as it's commonly known. These little critters can cause big trouble for our furry companions, so let's break it down together.

Imagine this: your beloved pup or snuggly kitty is living their best life when suddenly, these long, white roundworms decide to crash the party. They take up residence in the heart and lungs, leading to a condition known as dirofilariasis (Morchón et al., 2012). But here's the kicker – they don't stop there. In cats, they can even venture into the brain and spinal cord (American Heartworm Society, 2012). Talk about uninvited guests overstaying their welcome!

Their winged accomplices? Mosquitoes. These pesky bloodsuckers play a crucial role in spreading heartworm. As many as 30 species of mosquito have been found to transmit Dirofilaria immitis. Microfilariae (the earliest developmental stage) will mature, mate and reproduce within the heart and associated blood vessels within 6 to 7 months. In cats, it takes 7 to 8 months for infective larvae to mature into adults and reproduce. 

The symptoms of heartworm disease are no picnic. They include coughing, fatigue, and loss of appetite in our furry pals. It's heart-wrenching to see them suffer, especially knowing that prevention is key. Currently the most common method of diagnosis in dogs is serological tests ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay)/SNAP tests detect proteins associated with adult, female heartworms. They are run on a very small sample of blood during routine yearly exams; heartworm tests can detect heartworm disease and the 3 most common tick borne diseases. 

When it comes to preventing heartworm, there are some fantastic options available. Monthly preventatives like Heartgard and Simparica Trio are like superheroes in tiny packages (American Heartworm Society, 2012). These chewable tablets not only taste great (well, according to our pets, at least!), but they also work diligently to eliminate the larval stages transmitted by mosquitoes, ensuring our furry pals stay heartworm-free. And let's not forget about topical treatments like Revolution Plus, which are applied once a month to the skin of our beloved pets, providing comprehensive protection against heartworm and other parasites (Freda, 2003).

But wait, there's more! For those who prefer a longer-lasting solution, there are injectable preventatives like moxidectin, which offer protection for up to 6 to 12 months with just a single shot (Jones et al., 2014). It's like a set-it-and-forget-it approach to keeping our furry friends safe from heartworm.

Now, let's talk about treatment. Dealing with heartworm in our pets can be challenging, but it's not impossible. The first step usually involves killing off those adult heartworms, and the go-to treatment for this is melarsomine dihydrochloride (Jones et al., 2014). This FDA-approved medication is administered in a series of injections, typically over the course of several weeks. It's like going into battle against those pesky parasites!

But that's not all – adjunct therapy is often utilized by veterinarians to ensure the best possible outcomes for our furry companions. This might include additional medications or treatments tailored to the individual needs of the pet (Morchón et al., 2012). And let's not forget about the importance of strict exercise restriction during treatment – sorry, but no roughhousing for a little while!

For feline patients, while heartworm treatment isn't an option, preventive measures are still essential to keep them safe from these unwanted guests. Plus, regular testing and check-ups can help catch any potential issues early on (American Heartworm Society, 2012). 

As for us humans, while the risk of contracting heartworm from our furry friends is low, especially here in the Northeast, it's still something to keep in mind, especially if you live in warmer climates where mosquitoes thrive. So let's do our part to protect our pets and ourselves from these unwanted guests.

So, whether it's preventing heartworm with monthly chewables, opting for long-lasting injections, or tackling treatment head-on with melarsomine, there are plenty of options available to keep our furry friends happy, healthy, and heartworm-free!


American Heartworm Society. (2012). Current Canine Guidelines for the Diagnosis, Prevention, and Management of Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) Infection in Dogs. Retrieved from

Freda, R. (2003). Mosquitoes and Heartworms. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 44(12), 1003–1004.

Jones, K. L., McCall, J. W., & McTier, T. L. (2014). Heartworm disease in dogs. In S. E. Little (Ed.), August’s Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine, Volume 7 (7th ed., pp. 743–751). Elsevier Health Sciences.

Morchón, R., Carretón, E., González-Miguel, J., & Mellado-Hernández, I. (2012). Heartworm disease (Dirofilaria immitis) and their vectors in Europe – new distribution trends. Frontiers in Physiology, 3, 196.

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