With summer months fast approaching, it is an ideal time to get back in the habit of giving your pet their monthly heartworm prevention. Heartworms are spread via mosquito and can infect any animal that is not on regular heartworm prevention.
Dogs are ideal hosts for heartworms and are the most susceptible to infection. After the initial mosquito bite, the larvae mature on their way to the dog’s heart, where they grow to their full size (almost 12 inches long!), then multiply within the heart. This puts a lot of strain on the heart, as the worms can multiply to completely block the right ventricle and pulmonary artery and ultimately lead to the death of the animal. The easiest way to prevent heartworm disease in your dog is to keep up with their heartworm prevention, be it a monthly pill or a 6 month injection.
Cats are not ideal hosts for heartworms, but cats that spend a lot of their time outdoors would benefit from heartworm prevention. Heartworm disease affects them differently, but also more drastically than dogs. Most of the time, it only takes 1 to 3 worms to do significant damage to their respiratory system and by the time they are showing symptoms, it’s oftentimes too late. Not only that, there is no cure for heartworm disease in cats like there is for dogs.
The treatment for heartworms is an arduous process for dogs and owners alike. It consists of a series of 3 injections given over a 2 month period. It can be very expensive, with a price ranging between $600-$1200, depending on the size of the dog. The injections are administered with a long needle deep within the muscle of their lower back. This is a very painful injection and the pain and soreness can linger for days afterwards. The dog must also have restricted activity for the entire 2 months they are undergoing treatment; this means being confined to a cage if necessary. The dying worms cause inflammation in the heart and lungs, and any sort of exercise can cause complications during this delicate time. Rarely, the stress on the dog’s body is too great for it to handle and can result in death.
The simplest way to avoid having to put your dog through this stressful and painful ordeal is to keep them on heartworm prevention. There are many different options for heartworm prevention. We carry oral and topical medications, and some of them include flea, tick, and intestinal parasite preventative as well. Any of our staff members can go over the numerous preventatives we have to find the best fit for your pet.
Common misconceptions about heartworms:
“My dog doesn’t go to the dog park or hang around other dogs, so I don’t need heartworm prevention.”
A dog cannot get heartworms from direct contact with another infected dog. Heartworms require mosquitos to be an intermediary host between animals in order to spread. So even if your dog doesn’t come into contact with other dogs, they are still at risk for contracting heartworms from infective mosquitoes. Not only that, but many species of wildlife are significant carriers of the disease such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes.
“My dog is an indoor dog.”
Indoor dogs are at a lower risk for contracting heartworm disease. However, mosquito populations in Texas can be very high in the summertime. We often find them indoors or swarming us the minute we step outside. So even though your dog is an indoor dog, they should still be on heartworm prevention.
“My dog is a senior dog, so she doesn’t need heartworm prevention anymore.”
A senior dog can absolutely still get heartworm disease, and it will take a greater toll on their health than with a young, healthy dog. The disease itself will put immense strain on their hearts and lungs, and treatment to cure the disease may not even been possible due to the higher risk of complications for a senior animal.
“It’s wintertime, so my dog doesn’t need to be on heartworm prevention.”
In other states, this may hold true, however in the state of Texas, we don’t have the temperature drops needed to eradicate the mosquito population. In fact, we often have wet, warm winters. We recommend that dogs living in Southern states, especially those in closer proximity to the Mississippi river, be on heartworm prevention year-round. It is even recommended that pets in northern states remain on prevention year-round as not to risk forgetting to resume it in the summer months.
“I give heartworm prevention every month without ever skipping a dose, why does my dog need to be tested every year?”
If there’s one thing about dogs, it’s that they will always find the weak spot in a system. They may end up spitting, coughing or vomiting up a dose. There may be manufacturing errors where entire batches of prevention are ineffective. Again, other states may have different protocols, but we recommend testing for heartworm disease once every year at your pet’s annual examination due to the prevalence of the disease in our area.
“My dog was already treated for heartworm disease once, so she can’t get it again.”
Even after a dog has already been treated for heartworm disease, they can still be reinfected; they do not develop an immunity against it. The only way to keep them from becoming reinfected is to continue to give regular heartworm prevention for the remainder of their lives.
American Heartworm Society – http://www.americanheartwormsociety.com
Diagnostic Parasitology for Veterinary Technicians Charles M. Hendrix and Ed Robinson