Spring is here, the time when everything comes alive. The flowers bloom, the birds sing, and mosquitoes rear their ugly heads. Though I sure many of you have gotten started or kept up your heartworm prevention for your pets, it never hurts to have a reminder as to why we do.
Yes even Toledo has Heartworm
In 2015 57 out of 17,160 dogs tested in Lucas County tested positive for heartworm. That may not seem like a lot but that is only the dogs who were tested and reported and that is nowhere near the number of dogs in Lucas County. In August of that year the Lucas County humane society had 57,683 active licenses. So unfortunately it is more likely that there were much more than just 57 dogs in Lucas County with heartworm disease.
If you are not in Lucas County and want to see the statistics for your area please click here.
Heartworms are foot long, parasitic worms that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected mammals. Primarily found in dogs, they also infect cats, ferrets, wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and in rare cases humans.
How does my pet get it?
These worms are transmitted by mosquitoes. The mosquito bites an infected host and picks up the young worms (Microfilaria) and carries them to the next host. The mosquito then bites the new host and the worms enter through the bite. The worms then feed and grow as it makes its way into the blood stream and eventually the heart.
What happens to my pet when they get heartworms?
Early on there are few to no symptoms. Once they do start “Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.” (American Heartworm Society)
How does the prevention work?
Whether it is orally, topically, or injected heartworm preventatives work by eliminating the immature worms introduced or inside the body for its listed time frame. It is important to keep up with your pets doses as the young worms can reach adulthood in as little as 51 days which make them much harder to remove, as most preventatives only guarantee the immature worms.
What if my pet is positive for heartworms?
If it has been confirmed with your vet that your dog indeed has heartworm, depending on the severity, it can be treated but it is an uphill battle for you and your dog. Unfortunately, though rare, if a cat is heartworm positive there are no approved treatments.
Class 1: No symptoms or mild symptoms such as an occasional cough.
Class 2: Mild to moderate symptoms such as an occasional cough and tiredness after moderate activity.
Class 3: General loss of body condition, a persistent cough, and tiredness after mild activity. Trouble breathing and signs of heart failure are common. For class 2 and 3 heartworm disease, heart and lung changes are usually seen on chest x-rays.
Class 4: Also called caval syndrome. There is such a heavy worm burden that blood flowing back to the heart is physically blocked by a large mass of worms. Caval syndrome is life-threatening and quick surgical removal of the heartworms is the only treatment option. The surgery is risky, and even with surgery, most dogs with caval syndrome die. (FDA Heartworm)
First your pets exercise will have to be restricted, the more active they are the more damage the worms can do to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Then the veterinarian must stabilize your pet’s condition, before treatment can begin. Once your veterinarian decides that your pet can handle the treatment process a plan will be made and treatment will begin.
Depending on the severity of the infection treatment can vary from high doses of heartworm preventatives with multiple health checkups, multiple deep tissue injections over the course of many months, to invasive, risky, surgery to remove the worms from the pet. All of these processes put a lot of stress on the infected pet’s body.
Once treatment has ended it is extremely important to keep your dog on heartworm prevention year round, to make sure they never become infected again.
What prevention options are there?
All heartworm prevention requires a prescription, but can be given to your pet in many forms.
Orally there are many treats, tablets and pills that prevent heartworm, some even prevent other parasites as well like fleas and intestinal parasites. We carry many in clinic but if there is a product that you like that we don't carry our online store (which you can access on our home page) will ship to you.
The 6 month injectable, Pro Heart, currently the only approved injectable on the market.
Topical medications like Advantage Multi are also available on our online store.
Though the thought of your pet getting heartworms can be scary it is easily prevented through some easy steps.
1. Have your dog heartworm tested yearly
2. Keep up on heartworm prevention, especially in the warmer months when we see mosquitoes
And that’s it, I know I usually have longer lists but this one is short and easy for you.
For any more questions about heartworm or prevention please feel free to contact us by phone or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we would be happy to talk.