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April is Heartworm Awareness Month. According to the American Heartworm Society, an estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have heartworm disease. Fortunately, heartworm disease is preventable, and one 16-year-old dog lover is on a mission to help more people protect their pets from it.
Annie Blumenfeld of Fairfield, Conn., first became aware of the disease after her family adopted 2-year-old Teddy from the Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue.
While at the rescue, Teddy underwent heartworm treatment, which, the family learned, can be a long process, requiring injections, oral medications and several vet visits. Additionally, activity must be restricted during treatment to minimize complications. Teddy is healthy now, but Blumenfeld says, “We felt so sad when we learned how he struggled.”
Determined to keep other pets from suffering as Teddy had, Blumenfeld began researching heartworm disease and discovered that, despite how widespread the condition is, many dogs and cats are unprotected. Because prevention is easier, less expensive and a better option than treatment, Blumenfeld knew she had to take action to increase awareness.
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the vessels of the lungs and sometimes the heart of dogs, cats and other mammals. The disease is transmitted to animals by infected mosquitoes, which deposit worm larvae as they feed.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs include fatigue, exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, weight loss, decreased appetite and a mild, persistent cough, although some dogs may not show any signs. Affected cats may gag or vomit, have trouble breathing, become lethargic, lose weight or, like some dogs, have no signs at all.
Canine heartworm disease is usually diagnosed through blood tests, and treatment for dogs can be a costly and complicated process. Left untreated, heartworms can cause inflammation of a dog’s blood vessels and can lead to medical problems with the lungs, heart, liver or kidneys and even cause death.
Diagnosis in cats is typically more difficult, and there are currently no approved products or straightforward treatment for cats in the United States. Some cats seem to be able to clear heartworm infections on their own (spontaneously), but even a few worms can be fatal.
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