National Heartworm Awareness Month: Tips for Keeping Pets Parasite Free

National Heartworm Awareness Month: Tips for Keeping Pets Parasite Free

National Heartworm Awareness Month: Tips for Keeping Pets Parasite Free


April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, Spring is here and so are the bugs. Every year it is a challenge to keep them off our pets and out of our homes. Recently, we spoke with veterinarian, Dr Katy Nelson about the prevalence of Heartworm, the risks and prevention tactics we can deploy to keep our pets pest-free in the coming summer months. 

What is Heartworm? 

Content courtesy of American Heartworm Society and Dr Katy Nelson, DVM

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.The worms are spread through the bite of a mosquito. These foot-long worms (heartworms) live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans. Because wild species such as foxes and coyotes live in proximity to many urban areas, they are considered important carriers of the disease. 

Dogs. The dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, heartworm prevention for dogs is by far the best option, and treatment—when needed—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible. Learn more about heartworm medicine for dogs.

What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?

In the early stages of the disease, many dogs show few symptoms or no symptoms at all. The longer the infection persists, the more likely symptoms will develop. Active dogs, dogs heavily infected with heartworms, or those with other health problems often show pronounced clinical signs.

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

Here are some helpful tips to avoid critter infestations in the coming months…


  • Yes, it is a good idea to do this every day to remove eggs, larvae and adults. Vacuuming is one of the easiest ways to prevent tick and flea infestations in your house.
  • Don’t Forget! Be sure to vacuum everything – carpets, inside couches and under chair cushions, carper runners, bath mats and along baseboards!

Steam clean carpets:

  • The hot steam and soap kills fleas in all stages of the life cycle.
  • Steam clean extra carefully where pets sleep.

Buy products treated with Permethrin

  • Consider the purchase of pet beds, bandanas, car seat covers, blankets and more that are treated with Permethrin, such as Insect Shield for Pets
  • If your pet bedding is not treated be sure to wash it regularly (also your family bedding on which pets lie.) Wash in hot, soapy water often. (at least every 2 weeks)
  • If an infestation is severe, discard old pet bedding and replace it with fresh, clean material.

Always be sure to carefully follow the instructions when using tick and flea protective products…

Dr. Katy is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre, as well as host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. She’s reports on animal health topics for Washington DC’s All News Radio Station, WTOP News as well as on camera for WJLA ABC 7 News.  She is the Medical Director of Pet Health for Stop Aging Now, Medical Director of Pet Health for BioStem Logics and the Proprietor of KJN Pet Marketing.  She has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, Fox and Friends, The Meredith Vieira Show, CNBC’s PowerPitch, HuffPost Live, to name a few, and is the expert for the second season of the popular show “Unlikely Animal Friends” to air this spring on NatGeo Wild.  She is a frequent contributor to HuffPost Pets, BarkPost and PetMD and you can also read “Ask Dr. Katy” quarterly in the Virginia-Maryland-DC Dog Magazine, or online.  Dr. Katy has been a small animal veterinarian for 15 years, and is a proud graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.  In her spare time she is an avid traveler, athlete, wife, rescue proponent, and proud mom to three four-leggers and two two-leggers.