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Canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is now found throughout the United States. In the past, the Southern California area has been relatively free of the disease, but recent cases have been diagnosed in dogs that have not traveled out of the Los Angeles area.
Heartworm disease is curable if diagnosed early in its course. If not detected and treated, it can cause severe disease and eventually the death of your pet. The infestation is passed to the dog by the bite of a carrier mosquito. The mature parasite actually lives within the heart and passes larvae called microfilaria into the blood system. The mosquito is then infested when it bites the dog and the cycle repeats itself. The complete lifecycle takes 6-7 months. Diagnosis is made from blood tests. Radiographs (X-rays) may be required to confirm that heartworms are present.
Some symptoms of heartworm disease include: difficult breathing, coughing, loss of stamina, listlessness, and weight loss. Unfortunately, these signs may not be obvious until a more advanced stage of the disease.
Veterinary research has resulted in medications and treatment procedures that have decreased the deadliness of heartworm infestation in recent years. A once-a-month preventive medication has been developed, and has proven to be quite safe and effective. It is imperative, however, that your pet have a negative test result (indicating absence of the disease) prior to being placed on preventive medication, as severe or fatal reactions can occur if these medications are given to dogs with heartworm disease.
Confirmed cases of heartworm disease have been reported in Chatsworth, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills and many other areas in L.A. and surrounding counties. Because of the potential threat to your dogs, we are recommending that all dogs over six months be tested annually, and if negative, be put on a preventive medication. This is even more important if you take your dog traveling out of the State or into other areas of California. In addition, puppies between two and six months of age that have come from endemic areas should receive monthly treatment because it interferes with one of the lifecycle stages and will not allow the microfilaria to mature.