Heartworm season will be here before we realize it!
Each year we see thousands of dogs come through our doors for medical attention and care. During these appointments we routinely ask owners if your dog needs heartworm preventative. Quite often we get the same questions or responses from owners in regards to heartworm disease, testing, and the heartworm preventative pill. We want to address some of these common questions or responses.
First, a quick lesson on heartworm disease:
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is a very serious and potentially fatal disease that affects primarily dogs, but also can affect cats, ferrets, and certain other mammal species. The heartworm is a foot-long worm that resides in the heart & lungs (NOT the intestines) causing severe damage, disease, and liekly death.
Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes. It will take 6 months for the microfilaria (baby heartworms) to mature into an adult heartworm infection.
Signs of heartworm disease are not identified initially. After the disease has been present for some time, signs may include coughing, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, and weight loss. More severe infections lead to heart failure, sudden collapse and quite often death.
Heartworm disease can be treated, however it is costly and requires your pet to be strictly kenneled for months…. Zero exceptions.
Prevention is easy in the form of an inexpensive once-a-month heartworm preventative pill. Your pet needs to be tested to ensure it is heartworm negative once a year with a simple blood test.
In light of the very serious nature of heartworm disease, we will highly recommend performing an annual heartworm test on your dog, and then offer heartworm prevention pills. We receive many of the responses below from our clients. Here are the answers to these typical questions or statements:
1) “But my dog never goes outside, so it can’t get heartworm disease”
- Mosquitoes will unfortunately always find a way into your home. It takes ONE heartworm positive mosquito to bite your dog, and your dog can become positive. This is most often a statement made in regards to a small dog. Small dogs routinely get heartworm disease just as often as large dogs do.
2) “I only give the heartworm pills during the summer when mosquitoes are out”
- True, this is the more heightened time of the year for the spread of disease, however it is recommended to give the preventative year round for a couple reasons:
- Occasionally you find that random mosquito in your house in the late fall. If that ONE mosquito carried heartworm disease then bit your dog, your dog is now positive. If you go until spring before you start preventative again, you are at 5-6 months of your dog being untreated. That’s the time frame for a full-blown heartworm disease to manifest. It has also been found that the incidence of heartworm in MN is increasing on an annual basis, despite our winters.
- The heartworm preventative also de-worms your dog on a monthly basis for different intestinal parasites. It is common for dogs to pick up, chew on, or ingest parasite infected material, such as other animals’ feces. It is important to note that humans are susceptible to getting both roundworms and hookworms from an infected animal. Giving a monthly heartworm preventative pill year round helps to keep you and your children safe from these intestinal parasites.
3) “I picked up heartworm last year, and still have some left, so I don’t need any this year”
- The short answer to this is, you shouldn’t have heartworm pills left over from the previous year. Your dog NEEDS to have one heartworm pill given once a month, year round. You can only purchase up to 12 pills for the year, so there should never be an abundance of pills left from the previous year.
4) “I already bought some heartworm prevention pills from the local farm and fleet store/Walmart/PetSmart/Petco”
- Heartworm prevention can only be sold by a licensed veterinarian or with a prescription from a veterinarian. If you purchased something at a local pet store, farm and fleet store, retail store, etc, they are not actually heartworm prevention pills, and your dog is not being properly protected.
5) “My dog doesn’t come into contact with other dogs, so they don’t need heartworm pills”
- Remember, heartworm isn’t spread by dog to dog contact…it’s spread by mosquitoes. Therefore, if your dog lives anywhere that mosquitoes live, it is exposed to heartworm disease and needs to be on heartworm preventative.
Our goal is to keep your pets happy and healthy. Prevention of a very serious disease such as heartworm is inexpensive and easy. Let’s work together to help keep your home heartworm free!
Dr. Tanya Lewis