VCA Total Care Animal Hospital

Heartworm Disease

By Carol Petit
Published: June 10, 2010

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Before veterinarians had effective medications to prescribe, many animals died from heartworm disease. Today, however, it is virtually 100% preventable, as long as preventive medication is given as directed.

Heartworm disease is transmitted to pets via mosquitoes. Worms develop and lodge in an infected pet’s heart and pulmonary artery, where they can cause illness and even death.

In dogs, the worms live in the heart and large blood vessels around the heart and lungs, where they can damage tissues and lead to heart failure and pulmonary disease. In some cases, the worms can obstruct other large blood vessels, leading to liver failure and kidney disease. Severe cases can be fatal.

In cats, the worms are found in the heart, lungs or a pulmonary artery. While cats are less susceptible to heartworm infection than dogs, their body’s reaction to the worms can be more intense. Feline patients can become severely ill or even die suddenly from just one or two worms.

Signs of heartworms in dogs:
* Deep chest cough
* Labored respiration
* Fatigue and lethargy
* Weight loss
* Abdominal distension or bloating

Signs of heartworms in cats:
* Coughing and/or gagging
* Vomiting
* Breathing problems
* Lethargy
* Weight loss
* Sudden death

Easily Preventable:

Step # 1: Get your dog and cat tested

A blood test can detect whether or not your pet has been exposed to heartworm infection. Additional radiograph tests may be used to determine the extent of infection

Step # 2: Start them on preventive medicine.

Depending on your individual pet and personal preferences, your veterinarian will recommend either monthly oral or topical heartworm preventive medication. Many of these medications also control other internal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.


Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

As part of the VCA family, we have over 83 specialty hospitals across the US and Canada which provide referral specialty care, so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: behavior, cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, integrative medicine, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology, rehabilitation, reproduction, and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:


See all VCA Animal Hospitals >


Emergency Care

If you have an emergency during normal business hours, please call us immediately at 804-282-4215.

If you have an emergency AFTER normal business hours, please call the following:

Dogwood Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center

5918 West Broad St.

Richmond, VA.  23230