We are a little late but March was all about Heartworms!
So what are heartworms?
Heartworms are one of the most preventable parasitic diseases in animals. A parasitic roundworm, it spreads from one dog host to another.
How do pets get heartworms?
Heartworm larvae are transmitted through infected mosquitoes which subsequently bite our furry family members. One single bite can give our pets heartworms.
Why should we use prevention?
Heartworms can lead to severe problems with the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, and can be fatal. In the past we have not had many cases here in Utah. However, since natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, dogs have been shipped around the country from places with higher occurrences of heartworm causing the spread of heartworms from those dogs to ours here.
Isn’t there a treatment if my dog contracts heartworms?
There are treatments. However, they are costly and painful. The only medication used for treatment is called Immiticide. Immiticide uses arsenic in its production, which makes it difficult to reliably carry it since not many people are willing to work with it. Currently supplies of Immiticide come from France. We try to have some in stock but we can’t always guarantee that we will have it if we have multiple cases occur in the same time frame. This last year we had two dogs diagnosed with heartworms within about a week of each other. If we had had a third dog come in within that next month or two we would not have been able to treat them. Another problem we run into when it comes to treating with Immiticide, due to the arsenic in it, it can be very painful to the dog being treated. It has many potential side effects including but not limited to: anorexia, agitation with or without tremors and excessive salivation, fever, depression, possible respiratory reactions to the dead microfilaria and thromboembolism can be observed 7-20 days after treatment.
In what ways can heartworms be prevented?
There are several options that we offer on prevention of this debilitating disease. These include the chewable tablets Heartgard and Tri-heart (a generic of Heartgard) as well as Proheart. Proheart is an injection that will cover 6 months of heartworm prevention. It also treats the common hookworm infections that may be present. Proheart can be more convenient than the Heartgard and Tri-heart because you only have to come in to the clinic every 6 months versus having to remember to give a pill every month but it can be more expensive depending on the size of your pet. If you have a larger dog it could actually be more cost effective to do the injection.
How does the prevention work?
We give our pets prevention monthly. The reason is because the prevention works “backwards”. Meaning that, when we give our pet their dose of heartworm prevention it takes care of any heartworm they may have received in the past month. It only works on the stage of heartworm that is passed on from mosquito to pet. So what if your pet was wasn’t on heartworm prevention and was bit by a mosquito 2 months ago? Or 5 months ago? The best option at this point would be to get your pet on prevention and then in 6 months get a heartworm test.
Wouldn’t I want to get a heartworm test done on my pet right away?
Due to the way that a heartworm test works and picks up heartworms, it takes 6 months from the time that your pet is bitten to the time we can test positive for heartworms. The test reacts to hormones in the worms that can only be picked up on the test when they are adults. When a mosquito transfers heartworms to your pet, worms are in a larvae stage that takes the full 6 months to grow.
Even if you miss a dose of prevention on your pet you should get your pet heartworm tested 6 months from the time of the missed dose to make sure your pet is good to go. You should continue to give your pet their heartworm medication or call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.
If there is anything we didn’t cover about Heartworms and their prevention in this article please let us know! We can get your questions and concerns answered!