HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) —  According to the American Heartworm Society, there are more than a million pets throughout the U.S. with heartworm disease.

Elizabeth Gomez who works with Best Friends Animals Society said although the disease is common some people may not know about it.

Heartworm disease affects both cats and dogs through the spread of mosquitoes but dogs are more prone to the disease. 

Gomez said heartworms lead to parasitic worms that inhabit the heart, lungs, and associated major vessels. 

The most common sign for a cat is a cough similar to cat asthma. For dogs, it is coughing, exercise intolerance, weight loss, or fainting episodes. 

According to Gomez, some dogs do not show early signs which is why it is important to take your dog for veterinarian checkups.

“It’s like getting a physical for humans; we know that we have to get these physicals and have a blood test done to see if there’s anything wrong with us, same with your pets, you can’t just have them inside and not take them to the vet,” said Gomez.

Gomez said heartworms are preventable and can be treated at an early stage but if untreated, the disease can become deadly.

According to Gomez, the disease brings challenges when it comes to adopting or fostering because people tend to fear they will transmit the disease to those around them.  

“They are under this misconception that they’re going to affect family members or they’re going to infect other pets in the household so many shelters and rescue organizations, they struggle,” said Gomez. 

Gomez said the best prevention for heartworms or any disease is by continuing to take their pets for checkups. 

Gomez said pets who are diagnosed with the disease at an early stage by veterinarians are able to receive the proper prescription and care they may need. 

“With the help of a veterinarian heartworm disease is very treatable and the American Heartworm Society has an established protocol for this treatment,” said Gomez.

For more information about heartworm prevention, visit the Best Friends Animal Society.

Best Friends Animals Society also offers detailed resources in Spanish. CLICK HERE.