SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Heartworm is a potentially fatal disease for pets and can be contracted really anywhere in the world.

This year, veterinarians are seeing a spike in the disease. even in the Pioneer Valley.

A local vet told us about why this disease could be on the rise and what to do if your pet is infected.

Every three years, the American Heartworm Society studies incidents of the disease across the nation.

In Massachusetts, cases per clinic averaged anywhere between one and 25 at that time.

However, Alberto Fernandez, a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Springfield, told Western Mass News that number has now jumped - especially in Hampden County.

"The incidents of heart-worm disease, at least in Hampden County, this year, we have tested over 90 plus animals positive for heart-worm," Fernandez explained.

One reason for a rise in positive cases could be linked to mosquitoes, which are found all around the area.

"It's a parasite. It's transmitted by mosquitoes, then they lodge in pulmonary arteries and it can cause significant disease in the heart and in the lungs as well," Fernandez noted.

Though studies don't prove it, Fernandez told Western Mass News that they could be linked.

"The coyote population show a high positive numbers to heartworm disease, somewhere between 30 or 40 percent. It certainly makes sense that we have an increased number of animals that are hosts for the disease," Fernandez said.

So how do you know if your pet has it?

Look for these signs:

  • Persistent cough
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

Fernandez told Western Mass News that a trip to the vet could go a long way in prevention.

"Heartworm disease can be easily detected with a blood test. It's a very wise thing to do and perform yearly blood work and it's important to keep those dogs year-round on preventive medications," Fernandez explained.

Fernandez added that it can take six months for a heartworm to become an adult, so be sure to continue preventative methods throughout the winter even when mosquitoes have faded away for the year.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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