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Heartworm is a disease dogs can contract when bitten by a mosquito. Symptoms include a cough, exercise intolerance, and lack of appetite and weight loss. Prognosis depends on whether there is a mild infection or a more severe advanced infection. While Maine does not have as many cases of heartworm as there are in the southeastern states, it is still present in this area. In Maine, 1-5 cases are diagnosed per clinic per year. Incidence will probably rise in our area as people move in with dogs from other parts of the country or adopt rescue dogs from regions with more heartworm disease.

For those owners who do not have their pets on year-round heartworm preventive, March and April are the best months to test for heartworm disease. If you treat your dog year-round for heartworm but missed a dose or two during the year, it would also be a good idea to re-test your dog to ensure he or she didn’t become infected during the month or two the preventive was missed. The heartworm test used at Ridge Runner screens a dog’s heartworm status along with checking exposure to several tick-borne diseases including lyme, ehrlichia, and anaplasmosis. This test requires a few drops of blood from your dog and about 15 minutes of your time.

If your dog does not have a heartworm infection, he or she can immediately begin taking heartworm preventive medication, which is typically provided as a once a month chewable tablet. For those animals that test positive, treatment is available. However, the treatment require your pet to be hospitalized for several days and occasionally can have complications.

Can Cats be affected by heartworm?

Cats can contract heartworm disease, although adult worms are much less common than they are in dogs. Unlike dogs, much of the damage from heartworm infection in cats is in the lungs rather than the heart. Also, this damage is usually caused by juvenile worms, whereas in the dog juvenile stages of heartworm are of less concern than the adults.

There are tests available to help screen cats for adult heartworm as well as help decide whether or not heartworm is a component of a cat’s lung disease. Like dogs, cats can also be put on heartworm preventive tablets.

For more information on heartworm disease, please visit our links page and click on the “heartworm disease” link. If you have any questions, please call us and we would be happy to discuss this disease with you.