Tatum sits outside enjoying the warm summer weather.

Tatum at his annual vet checkup with Dr. Davis, getting tested for heart warms.

 Every day, Morgan Andrews spends time with her dog, Tatum, outside in the backyard.

“He just turned two,” Andrews said. “All he does is play outside. He would stay out there all day if he could.”

But being outdoors can come with dangers. Just one mosquito bite can infect a dog with one of the deadliest diseases: heartworms.

Heartworms are foot-long worms in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels in cats and dogs. Nearly 20 percent of all mosquitos carry these worms. According to the American Heartworm Society, this disease has been detected in all 50 states. South Carolina ranks sixth among states with the highest rates of heartworm-positive pets.

Early on, Andrews suspected something was wrong with Tatum. 

“He was really sick when I first got him, you could tell,” Andrews said. “He did not want to go and play, he didn’t want to run around with the other dogs. Finally, I decided to take him to the vet and they did the heartworm test. He tested heart worm positive.”

April is Heartworm Awareness Month and the American Heartworm Society reports more than one million dogs currently have heartworm disease in the United States.

“The main thing is we have mosquitoes all year round,” Dr. Jenevia Davis, veterinarian at Banfield Pet Hospital in Columbia, said. “In South Carolina, we really do not have much of a winter, so killing off the mosquitos is kind of the problem there.”

The American Heartworm Society is urging S.C. pet owners to stay vigilant. Simply going outdoors for a walk puts pets at risk. Most pet owners would never knowingly put their pet at risk, but officials say millions of them fail to protect their dog. The most obvious symptoms of this disease are a soft, dry cough, loss of stamina, shortness of breath, and weakness. T

Luckily for dog lovers, heartworm disease is very preventable. The annual cost of prevention typically runs less than ten percent of the cost of treatment. There are many heartworm preventative products on the market including Heartgard, NexGard, Trifexis, Sentinel and Frontline.

“If they are on prevention… it de-worms them every month and kills the baby heartworms,” Davis said.

These medications, which can be purchased at any veterinarian office, are the most effective means of ensuring a happy and healthy life for your pet. It is important that you do not miss or skip a dose of their preventative. This could leave your dog susceptible to the disease.

Veterinarians like Davis recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms once a year even if they are on a heartworm preventative.

It is a simple blood test that is administered by any veterinarian which can detect the presence of heartworm proteins. In the event that your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, make sure the disease is stabilized and treated by a veterinarian.