It has been one heck of a winter and the spring like weather is a welcome change. Spring is also a reminder that we are coming into full-blown parasite season, fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes put our pets at risk.
Heartworm prevention is a crucial piece in the overall health of our pets. Mosquitos aren’t parasites, but they allow parasites to flourish.
I hate Mosquitos. They have always loved biting me. Most of my memories as a kid in summer were having large welts from Mosquitoes bites that itched incessantly. Even with Mosquitos repellant, they still managed to find me and bite me.
Mosquitos are not just a nuisance, they are considered to be one of the most dangerous creatures on earth. Really! Mosquitos and the diseases they spread have been responsible for killing more people than all the wars in history. Even today, mosquitos transmitting malaria kill 2 million to 3 million people and infect another 200 million or more every year1.
How Pets Become Infected
Only female mosquitos bite (the blood they ingest is usually required for her to produce and lay eggs). These females bite an infected animal; she ingests the infant stage of the heartworm then she travels to another animal, bites it and transfers these juvenile stages to a new animal.
Mosquitos can fly long distances; some more than 20 miles from the water source that produced them. You and your neighbors may all be diligent in giving all of your pets heartworm prevention on time but it us takes one infected animal within the radius (up to 20 miles) to put your pet in danger. I don’t like those odds.
Heartworm is a progressive and potentially fatal disease transmitted by mosquitos. Did you know it’s not just dogs and cats at risk? Ferrets are susceptible to getting a heartworm infection as well. Other animals like raccoons, coyotes, and foxes can also be infected.
Even pets who live strictly indoors can become infected with heartworms. Have you ever seen a mosquito in your home? When an animal becomes infected with heartworms it can be fatal. Annual testing is recommend but be aware of the signs.
- Dogs may not show signs of the illness early on. Dogs most frequently cough but also can become tired easily, or have trouble breathing. They also may not want to eat or eat less than normal. It is most common for dogs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian from a blood test.
- Cats are more difficult to diagnose than dogs. Cats tend to exhibit respiratory signs most frequently. But also vomiting and coughing are common. Sudden death can occur as well.
- Ferrets exhibit signs of disease similar to dogs, however more rapidly. A single heartworm can cause serious disease in a ferret (this rings true in cats as well).
When it comes to heartworm disease prevention is the best medicine.
Treatment of heartworm disease is dangerous can be unsuccessful (the pet dies) and not mention expensive.
Preventatives come in various formulations (topicals, chewables, injectables) are easy to give. (Just ask my Labrador StellaLuna who recently consumed three years’ worth of heartworm – plus flea & tick prevention in less than one hour. These drugs have a wide margin of safety. Not so much for the plastic packaging)
Heartworm preventatives work by eliminating immature stages of the heartworm. It is very important these medications are given on a strict schedule at the prescribed interval. Although StellaLuna ate years’ worth of prevention, she was only protected from heartworm disease for one month. That was one very expensive month.
Speak with your pet’s veterinarian on the prevention they recommend for your pet based on his/her risk factors and lifestyle.
Risky Business of Treatment
Substantial risk exists in treating a dog with a heartworm infection and there is no approved medical treatment for cats in the US.
During treatment, we are poisoning the worms to kill them off. Protocols vary. Start to finish treatment can last three to four months. Treatment can be very painful (injections into the muscle) and not to mention expensive (much less than the cost of a monthly preventative).
It is crucial to keep a dog quiet post treatment. Cage rest and only leashed walks to eliminate and return inside. High energy dogs can find this restricted activity stressful and emotionally challenging. Treatment is not always 100% successful and some dogs could die from complications.
Heartworm In My Home
As a pet parent who has experienced heartworm treat first hard (and not as a professional treating patients) I can tell you there is no reason not to provide protection for your pet. We fostered (then adopted) our Pug Molly who came into rescue positive. The rescue needed a foster parent with experience caring for a dog through treatments. Even for me it was terribly stressful. After each treatment I worried about how the worms were dying off. Read my post The Case for Year Round Prevention.
The two things pet parents can do to help prevent a heartworm infection, recommended by the American Heartworm Society, is year round heartworm prevention and annual testing. Speak with you veterinarian about their specific recommendations. These two things give your pet the best chance to never experience the perils of treatment.
Take a moment to share this post with your favorite pet parents and let me know your thoughts on the article. Thank you for spending time with me.
Happy Pet Parenting,