As a pet owner, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about heartworms, but are you doing enough to protect your pet from this potentially fatal disease? The spring and summer months are usually when this disease is most prevalent, but heartworms can actually be a year-round concern, especially if you travel with your pet. Since April is Heartworm Awareness Month, Bayshore Veterinary Hospital in Holmdel, NJ, wants to educate you on the dangers of heartworm so your pet can be safe.
What Exactly Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworms are a life-threatening disease that has been found across all 50 states of the United States. It’s caused by foot-long worms that invade the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected pets, causing severe heart and lung disease as well as damage to other organs. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are the three species most affected by heartworms. Dogs offer a perfect environment for heartworms to flourish, and if left untreated, they can multiply into hundreds within a single dog. Unfortunately, treatment is rough, and damage to vital organs can be permanent. Cats are not as ideal an environment for heartworms to multiply, and most worms don’t survive to the adult stage. However, despite the lower numbers, the disease is just as deadly. Additionally, the medications that are used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats. When it comes to cats, the only option is prevention!
How Is Heartworm Disease Transmitted?
Adult female heartworms living in infected, dogs, foxes, coyotes, or wolves, produce baby worms that circulate through the bloodstream. A mosquito (think of him as a delivery man) bites the infected animal, drawing out blood that contains the baby worms. This “delivery man” mosquito then deposits this blood on the skin of the next animal it bites. Then, the baby worms work their way through the bite site into the new animal’s bloodstream. Once inside the new host animal, it takes approximately six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. The adult worms live five to seven years in dogs and two to three years in cats. Unfortunately, each mosquito season can result in the same animals being infected over and over again!
Pet Heartworm Prevention & Protection
Prevention, prevention, prevention. It cannot be said often enough! When we talk about pet heartworm prevention, we’re discussing a two-part plan of attack:
- Heartworm testing performed prior to administering a heartworm preventative, and then once a year on the anniversary of that first testing date.
- Heartworm preventative given once a month, every month of the year. The preventative should be given on the same date each month. Pick your date, and stick with it because a lapse of even a few days can put your pet at risk.
The American Heartworm Society tells us to “Think 12.” Test every 12 months; administer prevention 12 months out of the year. And for the month of April, we’re including a free fecal internal parasite test with every comprehensive exam that includes a heartworm test!
Below is a list of additional tips to keep in mind for protecting your pet from heartworm disease.
- Puppies and kittens should start heartworm prevention no later than 8 weeks old.
- Weight restrictions are not guidelines; they’re critical to successful prevention!
- Do not start prevention without first testing for the presence of heartworm disease. The risk to your pet is substantial!
- Use only the preventatives prescribed by your veterinarian. Since several different options exist, meet with your veterinarian to discuss them and select the option that best suits your pet. There are a broad variety of internal and external parasites that place our pets at risk for disease, so you’ll most likely find that comprehensive protection will require more than one medication be given.
Remember that mosquitos are the culprits that spread heartworm disease, so having an indoor pet does not necessarily provide protection from mosquitos. While outdoor pets have greater risk for exposure, mosquitos can easily make their way indoors through screens and open windows, placing all pets at a risk level that is high enough to warrant prevention!
Make an appointment at Bayshore Veterinary Hospital to discuss heartworm prevention for your companion, and don’t forget about our free fecal internal parasite test offer with every comprehensive exam that includes a heartworm test! Call us today at (732) 671-3110.