Monday, December 11, 2023

Furry Friends Feature: Is Your Pet One Mosquito Bite Away from Heartworms?

All it takes is one mosquito bite to give a pet heartworms. The Heritage Humane Society is sharing signs to look for, critical prevention measures for pets (yes, even indoor pets), and spotlights a few pups who are looking for their forever family. Greater Williamsburg’s largest animal shelter also has a “heartworms to heartwarming” story from a local family who adopted two heartworm-positive dogs who are thriving.

Heartworms 101

Most of us cringe at the thought of heartworm disease. The thought of tiny larvae growing into foot-long worms living in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets can be stomach churning. The unwanted squatters can cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body if not properly treated.

Dogs, cats, and ferrets can get heartworms. While the disease can be transferred from an infected pet or even fox or coyote as wild animal mammals known to be in the area, mosquito transmissions are the most common.

Prevention matters

According to the American Heartworm Society, more than one million pets in the U.S. have heartworms. All 50 states have pets with heartworm disease. However, the Society wants pet owners to know that heartworm disease is preventable for the four-legged friends.

The organization urges people to “think 12.” Provide monthly preventatives and take your pet to the vet for a wellness check-up to include blood work every 12 months. Preventatives come in options of chewable pills, spot on liquid similar to flea and tick preventatives that go on the skin between the shoulder blades, and injectables. It is key to talk with your veterinarian about the best option for your pet.

Since mosquitos can easily come into indoor areas such as houses, even indoor pets should be given prevention medication. The milder winter to-date in the Hampton Roads area can result in a more populated mosquito season.

For those who are heartworm positive, there are treatments. The most common is a three-part injection treatment for adult heartworms, a medication to kill the larvae, and an antibiotic that kills bacteria the worms carry. Heartworm treatment takes time and requires rest for the pet. Following treatment protocols can result in positive outcomes for more than 90% of affected pets.

Signs to look for

Dogs with heartworms can easily go undetected. Blood tests performed by your veterinarian are the only way to confirm a diagnosis of advanced heartworm disease in dogs.

For dog’s presenting signs, here are five that are reported in dogs with heartworm disease.

  • Mild persistent cough. A persistent, dry cough is a common sign and can be one of the first signs you notice in an otherwise healthy-appearing dog.
  • Lethargy. Lacking energy and being reluctant to exercise such as going for walks are being overly tired after a favorite activity.
  • Weight loss. Some dogs have a decreased appetite and, as a result, lose weight.
  • Swollen belly. As heartworm disease progresses, it can lead to heart failure. You may notice that your dog’s belly appears swollen from fluid in the abdomen.
  • Difficulty breathing. In the most advanced cases, dogs can develop more severe respiratory issues like rapid breathing in addition to coughing.

Success story

Beagle pals, Buddy and Turtle, were adopted by Scot and Andrea Wiegner in Feb. 2022. Since The Heritage Humane Society runs heartworm tests on all dogs that come into its care, the Wiegners were aware that both pups were heartworm positive at the time of their adoption.

In a recent update about Buddy and Turtle, Andrea Wiegner said, “I wanted to share that as of June 24th, the vet confirmed that Buddy is officially heartworm free! The slow kill heartworm medicine cleared it away for Buddy. Turtle is on his slow kill heartworm medicine and will get tested again in September. I’m hoping that he will be free of the heartworms, too. I wanted to share the good news with the people who helped give me these great pups – they are the best. Thank you all!”

Buddy and Turtle

Pets in-need of a fur-ever home

The Heritage Humane Society has almost 200 adoptable cats, dogs, and small pets hoping to find their forever families. Here are four heartworm positive dogs who are eager to no longer be homeless.

Charlie Girl. This six-year-old German Shepherd mix came into the shelter’s care on in November as a surrender. True to her German Shepherd breed, Charlie Girl is very smart and would love to train, play, eat, and repeat. She loves to show off her skills like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “roll over,” and “spin.” Charlie Girl would do best in a home with no other animals, however the staff at The Heritage Humane Society think she would thrive with a family that can give her lots of attention, love, and training.

Charlie Girl

Diamond. Looking for your diamond in the ruff? This sparkling gem is ready to light up your life! This one-year-old American Pit Bull mix came in as a stray on in January. The finder was only able to keep her for a short time, but he did learn a little bit about her personality. Diamond is friendly with people of all ages, however the staff at The Heritage Humane Society don’t know how she will do with other animals at this time. They’d be happy to set up a meet and greet though to see how she’d do with interested adopters and their other canine companions.


Mr. Bubbles. Beautiful and kind, nine-year-old Mr. Bubbles is a pit bull mix who was surrendered in October to The Heritage Humane Society from a bad situation. Due to his age and the extent of his heartworm disease, the medical team at The Heritage Humane Society decided a quiet foster home would be the best option for him. Mr. Bubbles deserves to spend his golden years in a warm forever home surrounded by the love of a family. Somewhere he can be held, spoiled, and feel safe. The Heritage Humane Society is looking for a very special family or individual that would consider opening their home to Mr. Bubbles for whatever time he has.

Mr. Bubbles

Maya. This sweet girl came in as a heartbreaking stray in mid-January. She was found in the woods by James City County Animal Control severely emaciated and in need of high levels of medical intervention. When she came to The Heritage Humane Society she weighed less than 29 lbs. Her ongoing treatment includes safely getting weight back on, giving her subcutaneous fluids, treating her for roundworms and whipworms, and starting oral treatment for heartworms. In the two weeks she has been at Heritage Humane Society she has gained more than 10 lbs. and is starting to show her curious side and perky personality. She still has a long road ahead of her before she can be made available for adoption. Despite her hardships, she has been nothing but incredibly sweet and loving to everyone at the shelter. Her enduring spirit is something to be admired. While Maya is not yet available for adoption because she is still receiving medical attention at The Heritage Humane Society, pet lovers are welcome to show support for her and her care with the donation of a Hearts for Homeless Pets. For a donation of just $10 or more, a heart can be inscribed with Maya’s name and hung with others throughout the shelter’s Adoption Center lobby for Valentine’s Day.


Charlie Girl, Diamond, Mr. Bubbles, Maya and the other adoptable pets are available during The Heritage Humane Society’s pet viewing and adopting hours from 12p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday – Sunday.

To learn more, visit, call 757-221-0150, or visit The Heritage Humane Society located at 430 Waller Mill Rd, Williamsburg, VA 23185.

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