Ask the NorthStar VETS Vet: Zika and Heartworm Disease


Some pet owners are curious about how the Zika virus may affect them and their pets. While there is still much for health scientists to learn on that front, we DO know that heartworms are another mosquito-borne disease affecting pets across the US.

Dr. Jennifer Schneiderman, Cardiologist at NorthStar VETS, started her conversation by talking a little bit about who she is. “I’ve always loved animals and wanted to help them and take care of them. As I got older, I really started to enjoy the math and sciences, so going into veterinary medicine was a great fit for me. My passion for cardiology developed in veterinary school. I always liked that subject, but while I was a student, my family dog ended up having cardiac disease, so it really inspired me to go down that path to help other peoples’ pets, too.”

“I really enjoy being a vet and especially being a Cardiologist. I love that in my field, I get to help these dogs with heart disease both with medical management as well interventional management and surgery such as pacemaker placement. It’s great to work in a hospital that has so many specialists that work so well together. It’s really a team effort on every case.

Zika Virus

Dr. Schneiderman provided some information on the Zika virus for pet owners. “The Zika virus is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Right now it’s mostly in South and Central America. We know that when people get bitten by an infected mosquito, they can get some mild clinical signs such as lethargy, rashes, and muscle aches, but usually can recover from it in a week or two. The big concern is if a pregnant woman gets the Zika virus, that can have really catastrophic complications for the baby. Babies can develop a condition called microcephaly, which is when the brain becomes underdeveloped. That can lead to really bad neurological complications and sometimes even death.”

“In animals right now, we’re still learning a lot about the virus, so we’re not sure yet whether the virus can affect dogs or cats. Our main recommendations are to maintain adequate mosquito control. That means not having stagnant water in the back yard that can stay in pails, buckets or flower pots.”

Heartworm Disease

There are more than one million heartworm positive cases each year across all fifty United States. More than seventy types of mosquitoes carry the disease and a mosquito can travel up to one hundred miles. Because they thrive in backyard microclimates and can take advantage of traveling pets as well as local wildlife, they are a major threat to pets. And the worms themselves can live for five to seven years. This is why veterinarians recommend year-round heartworm prevention for pets.

Symptoms of heartworm disease include lethargy, coughing at night, shortness of breath, or even no symptoms at all.

Dr. Schneiderman had more important information to pass along regarding heartworm disease. “We DO know, especially with dogs, that they can get heartworm disease, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes. We can prevent that by giving year-round monthly heartworm preventive to our pets. We always recommend to do that because heartworm disease can have serious and life-threatening complications in both dogs and cats. The heart worms tend to live in the pulmonary circulatory system. Dogs can be infected with hundreds of worms that can grow as long as twelve inches, which can really affect their circulatory system and cause complications with clots and anaphylactic reactions, so it’s definitely better to prevent them from getting these kinds of diseases and be proactive about giving the heartworm preventive, rather than waiting to help them after they’ve had such a serious infection.”

For more information on parasite-related diseases affecting pets in the United States, visit the sites for the Companion Animal Parasite Council, Dogs and Ticks, and the American Heartworm Society. For more information on eradicating mosquitos from your back yard, check out this recent story from Public Radio’s You Bet Your Garden. Make sure your pets are on year-round heartworm preventive and see your family veterinarian regularly for checkups.


Jennifer Schneiderman, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology)Jennifer Schneiderman, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology)
Dr. Schneiderman received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree at Ross University in 2009 before moving back home to Long Island, New York where she completed a one-year rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Atlantic Coast Veterinary Specialists in March 2010. After that, she completed a three-year residency in Cardiology at Atlantic Coast Veterinary Specialists in July 2013 and then stayed on there as a Staff Cardiologist until June 2014. Now a board-certified Veterinary Cardiologist, Dr. Schneiderman joined the NorthStar VETS team in August 2014. Her clinical interests include treatment of congestive heart failure and complex arrhythmias along with an interest in interventional procedures such as pacemaker implantation, balloon valvuloplasty and patent ductus arteriosus occlusion. Outside of work, Dr. Schneiderman enjoys traveling, scuba diving, going to the beach and spending time with her two tuxedo cats.


The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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