The Truth About Heartworms
If you have ever taken your pet to the vet, you have probably heard the “Heartworm Spiel”. Most likely your doctor and technician (and maybe even your receptionist) told you about the dangers of heartworm disease. They may have even shown you a heart in a jar with heartworms to express just how dangerous it is to not have your pet on heartworm prevention.
But you may have also heard some heartworm myths like it’s only a problem during the summer months so you can skip prevention the rest of the year. Or maybe you were told that since your shih-tzu only goes outside to potty she doesn’t need the prevention. Or maybe your neighbor said that your HOA treated the neighborhood for bugs and you really don’t need to let the Vet “price gouge” you with unnecessary medications. Or, hey, when you were a kid, your parents never had your dogs on prevention and the vet back then never made it seem like a big deal.
Trust me, we have heard all these excuses and more. And that’s all they are - excuses based on common misconceptions. But we are here to bring you the facts. Pictured below is a map of the United States that shows positive heartworm test results in dogs in 2019. And, if you notice, the majority of North Carolina had 50-100+ cases reported PER clinic. That is a lot of heartworm cases!
Another big misconception is that cats cannot get heartworm disease. When in fact, cats (and ferrets) can be infected with heartworms just like dogs are infected. Sure indoor cats and ferrets may not have as much exposure to mosquitos, but they can still get bit by a mosquito. I don’t know about you, but I’m always finding those nasty things in my house no matter how good we are at keeping the doors closed. And to top it off, there is no treatment for heartworms in cats or ferrets, monthly preventative is their only defense.
So how exactly is heartworm disease transmitted to your pet from a mosquito? When a mosquito takes a blood meal off of an infected animal and then bites another animal, it releases microfilaria (juvenile heartworms) into the bloodstream. These juvenile worms eventually travel to the heart and grow into adults. Heartworm prevention is actually a misnomer, because it does not actually prevent heartworms but kills the microfilaria before they can grow into adults. This is why it is important to give Heartworm preventative EVERY month. After the heartworms have developed into adults, Melarsomine (Immiticide) injections are the only effective treatment for them.
An added benefit of heartworm preventative is that most products will also treat common intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms. Our doctors primarily recommend Sentinel Spectrum for dogs because it will also treat whipworms, tapeworms, and flea eggs. We recommend Heartgard for our feline patients as it is flavored like a tasty cat treat!
And here’s the biggest benefit of keeping your pet on heartworm prevention year round - the cost of monthly prevention for your pet’s whole life is cheaper than the Melarsomine treatments. Not only is monthly preventative more affordable, but it’s also much safer and easier on your dog. These adult heartworms can also cause serious damage to the heart and lungs, leading to a shortened life-span.
So for all of these reasons and more, please keep your pets on heartworm prevention. We are happy to go through all of the product options with you as well! Please call our office or message us on social media with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding what prevention is the best for your pet.