Picture this: you and your dog are outside, frolicking beneath the sun on a warm,summer day. Not a care in the world beyond tossing the ball as far as you can and having your furry friend run to get it, tail wagging, darting through the tall grass. You feel something on your arm and you swat at it, coming away with a mosquito smashed between your fingers. Something tickles the back of your brain, a piece of knowledge that has settled there, waiting to be picked up. Heartworms.
What are heartworms and where do they come from?
Heartworms come from larvae that is transported from an infected mosquito to anunsuspecting host. This can happen anywhere there are mosquitos, but especially wherever there are hot spots along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and along river tributaries. Once the larvae has been planted onto its new animal host, it grows into adult worms that live in the blood vessels that distribute to the heart and lungs of your pet. The most vulnerable of the unsuspecting hosts are animals that are kept outdoors,though any dog or cat can be infected from a mosquito bite. Dogs can be infected multiple times, leading to different stages of infection in the same host. The very presence of the parasite can stress the animal’s heart and cause inflammation of the blood vessels and lungs, and in some cases the worms can make their way into the heart. Heartworms as a disease is progressive and if left untreated, will only get worse and can even cause death.
How do I know if my pet has been affected?
Symptoms can vary, depending on a few different factors. The number of worms, the immune response of the infected pet, how long they’ve had the heartworms, and the activity level of the animal all factor in to what kind of symptoms they’re displaying and the severity of how they’re presented. The more active the animal, the more pronounced the symptoms. Heartworms can live upwards of five years, and left untreated, can cause serious health problems for your pet, even death. Possible symptoms for dogs include coughing, exercise intolerance, stunted growth, labored breathing, discoloration of the skin, spitting up blood, fainting, bleeding of the nose, and accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity. Possible symptoms for cats include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, and weight loss. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, take them in immediately to get tested. Pets should be tested annually anyway, which can be done during a routine visit for preventative planning. The best care is preventative care, but if you think that your pet may be infected, acting fast is crucial.
I think my pet has been infected… what do I do?
If you think there’s a possibility that your pet may have been infected, even if you’re unsure, give us a call and we’ll get them tested and take the appropriate steps for treatment. There is just one drug available for heart worm treatment for dogs and is administered by being injected deep into muscles in the back of the dog. One third of dogs will experience side effects from the drug, including localized pain, swelling, and soreness. Dogs should be kept in a confined area with little to no activity for up to amonth after, as even after treatment, dead heartworms can cause respiratory problems.Your pet will need to be retested after six months to ensure the heartworms are gone.For cats, unfortunately, there are currently no effective treatments, so preventative care is imperative.
Let’s talk prevention.
As with most animal care, prevention is the key to everything. Chances are, you already knew about heartworm medication, but now you know just why it’s so important. We recommend it as a year-round treatment, as it’s impossible to accurately guess just when mosquitoes will be present, and we want to keep your pets safe at all times.Medications are available only by prescription and accessible in-office. Most heart worm medications are given monthly, and the most important thing is to stick to the regimen for your pet, as a lapse in medication can lead to infection. A good trick to ensure you remember every month is to set a reminder on your phone. Some manufacturers of medications also offer monthly email reminders. If you miss a dose, contact us immediately to have your pet tested. It’s important to note that some medications may also protect against other parasites, both internal and external but no single medication can guarantee 100% protection against all parasites, so it’s important to schedule that initial preventative planning appointment to discuss your pet’s needs and what is best for them.Now picture this: your dog brings back the ball, joy in his every step as he bounds back to you. You discard of the squashed mosquito and grab the ball as your phone dings – a reminder that it’s time for this month’s dose. You scratch your good boy behind the earsas you throw the last ball of the day, happy in the knowledge that your furry friend is safe thanks to his heartworm medication.