Animals R People 2

Heartworm Disease: Dogs & Cats

Is heartworm disease a problem in Virginia?


YES! Heartworm is carried by the mosquito who is carrying an immature form of the heartworm.

It can be a problem in any state.


How does my pet get heartworms?


Your pet can get heartworm infection when a mosquito carrying an immature form of the heartworm bites your dog to take a blood meal. During the process, the mosquito's saliva is injected under the pet's skin. These immature worms migrate from under the skin in the blood vessels, undergo more development and, in about 6 months, become adult worms inhabiting the arteries around the heart. These male and female adult worms then produce the immature heartworms that are taken from the bloodstream by another mosquito (and in turn, affecting more pets).


Why is it important to prevent heartworm disease?


Heartworm disease is often fatal and can cause heart and lung disease. There are different treatment options available for dogs but they can be costly and dangerous. For cats, there is no treatment available. Therefore, it is very important to prevent the disease using a heartworm preventative.


How does Interceptor prevent this disease?


Interceptor, a monthly heartworm preventative medication, prevents the immature forms of the heartworms from developing into adults.


When should I start my pet on Interceptor? How long do I need to give it?


You can start a puppy as young as 4 weeks of age and two pounds of body weight on prevention and a kitten as young as 6 weeks of age weighing at least 1.5 pounds. As long as your pet lives in Virginia, it should stay on preventative year-round for life. Different areas of the country will have different recommendations. Check with your local vet.


How do I know if my pet has heartworms?


A simple blood test done at your vet's office takes about 10 minutes. This is only for dogs 6 months of age or older since it takes 6 months for the immature worms to mature to adulthood. For many reasons, testing is unreliable in cats. Cats can take heartworm preventative safely without testing. The reason for this is because cats do not usually have large amounts of heartworms living in their bloodstreams like dogs do. Therefore, when Interceptor is given, the cat will not have a large amount of dying microfilaria (immature heartworms) that causes the problems in dogs.


If my dog has a positive test, what does that mean?


It means your dog has adult heartworms. Your full-service veterinarian will be able to discuss your treatment options with you.


If my dog's test is negative, should I start it on preventative?


Yes! It is recommended you start preventative therapy immediately.


Do I have to test my dog after starting preventative?


It is the recommendation of Novartis (Interceptor's manufacturer) that dogs be tested 6 months after the first test and then annually, as long as no doses have been missed. These annual tests are required to be certain your dog is receiving an adequate dose at correct intervals.


Information adapted from the Richmond, Virginia Spay & Neuter Foundation

Feel free to pass along this information to those wanting the facts about heartworm disease.