All the Questions You May Have
What is Heartworm Disease?
How Is It Transmitted?
How Do I Know If My Pet Has A Heartworm Infection?
How Can Heartworm Preventative Help?
Does My Pet Really Need It?
Let’s start from the beginning. What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease effecting pets in the United States and in various other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and connected blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets. Heartworms also live in other mammal species, such as wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and, in rare cases, humans. Because wild species such as foxes and coyotes live in proximity to many urban areas, they are considered important carriers of the disease.
How is it transmitted?
Adult female heartworms living in an infected dog, fox, coyote, or wolf produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites and takes a blood meal from an infected animal, it picks up these baby worms, which develops and matures into “infective stage” larvae over a period of 10 to 14 days. Then, when the infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal, the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animal’s skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound. Once inside a new host, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once mature, heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats.
How do I know if my pet has a heartworm infection?
All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care. The test we preform is a Heartworm and Tick Panel. It is a blood sample that identifies if you pet has contracted a heartworm infection or any tick borne diseases (such as Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichia and Lyme). Annual testing is necessary, even when dogs are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out, vomit a heartworm pill or rub off a topical medication. Heartworm preventives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog tested, you won’t know if your dog needs treatment.
How Can Heartworm Preventatives Help?
There are a few different kinds of preventatives such as a topical, oral and injectable. All approved heartworm medications work by eliminating the immature stages of the heartworm parasite. This includes the infective heartworm larvae deposited by the mosquito, as well as the following larval stage that develops inside the animal. Unfortunately, in as little as 51 days, immature heartworm larvae can molt into an adult stage, which cannot be successfully eliminated by preventives. Because heartworms must be eliminated before they reach this adult stage, it is extremely important that heartworm preventives be administered strictly on schedule. Administering prevention late can allow immature larvae to molt into the adult stage.
Does My Pet Really Need Heartworm Preventative?
It is highly recommended that you keep your pet on a year round heartworm preventative not only because it is the safest route for your pet, but it is also very expensive to treat a heartworm positive case; and with our weather being so unpredictable, it’s hard to tell if the mosquitoes will stay in hibernation. They like to hibernate where it is the warm (for example holes in the wall, sheds, garages, and even in your house.) Mosquitoes are cold-blooded and prefer temperatures over 80 degrees. Once the temperature drops to 50 degrees or below, they start hibernating. But unfortunately, will come out if there is a warmer day during the winter.