How to prevent heartworm in dogs and cats

Photo: Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) - As autumn sets in and temperatures cool around the D.C. area, veterinarians are cautioning pet owners to keep their animals treated for heartworm year round.

Heartworm, a parasite that grows and lives in the hearts of animals, is spread through mosquitoes and mostly affects dogs.

In an appearance Friday on Let's Talk Live on NewsChannel 8, though, veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson says that owners of both dogs and cats need to be aware of the persistent risk of the deadly disorder.

"We have to think about D.C. and the heat islands we have here," Dr. Nelson said. "If you have a potted plant in your home that stays warm, a mosquito can lay its eggs there."

Heartworm isn't just a concern for dogs, Dr. Nelson said. Cats can be even more susceptible to sudden death when they contract ringworm.

Nelson says that all it takes is one or two worms living in a cat's heart for it to prove fatal.

"It's very difficult to test for and treat cats," she said. "We were seeing for years all these cats with sudden death and no explained reason for it.

"Now, looking back, we've started to believe that it was due to heartworm disease."

Dogs and cats should be treated, either via pill or topical cream, year round, no matter whether pets spend most of their time indoors or outdoors.

"All it takes is one bite, and all (prevention) takes is one pill," Nelson said.

For more advice and information on how to keep your pets healthy, you can watch The Pet Show with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on NewsChannel 8.