Spring brings beautiful weather and more time outdoors for humans as well as our canine companions. But warmer weather also means mosquito season and mosquitos can pose a serious threat to your dog in the form of heartworms.Heartworm, a parasitic roundworm, is transferred from dog to dog through mosquito bites. At one time confined to the southern U. S., heartworm is now found in all 50 states. Adult heartworms can grow up to a foot long and live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels.What does heartworm mean for your dog?Dogs show no symptoms of heartworm in the first six months of the infection after being bitten. Once the worms have become adults, dogs may begin to show symptoms such as cough, reluctance to exercise, and exhaustion. As the heartworm infection builds up in the heart without treatment, symptoms may include weight loss, decreased appetite, fainting, coughing up blood, lung disease, and fatal congestive heart disease.Heartworm treatmentTreating heartworms can be costly, sometimes thousands of dollars, and painful for your dog. The most common treatment is a series of injections that kill the adult heartworms in the blood vessels of the heart. During treatment and for several weeks afterward, dogs must be kept quiet and restricted in their exercise, which can be difficult for active dogs. The reason is that, after treatment, as the worms begin to die they break up and can cause blockages in the lungs, resulting in respiratory failure and death.Prevention is the best medicineThe good news is that heartworm is easy and inexpensive to prevent. All dogs are at risk and should be on a preventative year round, even inside dogs. Preventative options include monthly pills, monthly topicals, and a six-month injectable medicine. Heartworm preventatives are available from your vet and protection for your dog costs less than $100 a year. It is also recommended that you get your dog tested yearly for heartworms by your vet.Meet Dozer, a heartworm success storyDozer, a spunky French Bulldog, came to the shelter in December.As with all dogs coming to FCHS, he was tested for heartworms. Sadly for Dozer, he tested positive; but, fortunately, through our Cinderella Fund, which is used to treat extraordinary conditions in special animals, he was able to receive treatment. The shelter staff has enjoyed having Dozer (and his silly antics) in residence during his three-month treatment period. But Dozer would surely have preferred to avoid the discomfort of the heartworm treatment and be at his forever home by now. Happily for Dozer, he is at the end of his treatment and has a loving family and forever home, including a little sister (a brindle Frenchie!), waiting for him.Protect your dogDozer is one of the lucky ones. Don't gamble with your dog's health. April is heartworm awareness month. Please be aware of the dangers and take the simple steps to protect your best friend.