The bugs are back, and with them, the worrying thought of heartworms. Heartworms are a constant threat, especially in warm climates. In South Carolina, we have one of the highest numbers of reported cases of heartworm infection in the country. Dogs and cats need to be on prevention year round, even pets that stay inside! We all have that one mosquito that somehow makes it into the house to taunt us for weeks!
What is a heartworm, and how does an animal catch it?
Heartworms are passed to dogs and cats from mosquitos. The microfilariae (heartworm babies) are picked up from an infected host by a mosquito taking a blood meal from that animal. The microfilariae mature in the mosquito for about two weeks. When the mosquito then takes a blood meal from your dog or cat, it will inject the infective larvae through its bite wound. Adult heartworms will be fatal to an animal if left untreated. Treatment for an infective dog can be very costly and time consuming.
What can I do to protect my pet?
Prevention is the way to go. You can prevent heartworms in your pet with a once monthly pill or topical. Prevention is a safe, cost effective, and easy way to make sure you and your pet never have to go through the pain of heartworm treatment. Heartworms take about 6 months to develop into adult worms, so it is important to start puppies and kittens on prevention before they reach the age of 6 months. If you have an adult dog, you can have him tested for heartworms, a simple test where a small blood sample is taken and tested for the presence of heartworms. A heartworm test can be nerve-wracking especially if your pet has not been on prevention. The test takes about 10 minutes to run, long enough to get nervous about the results! Cats don’t need to have a test before they start on prevention. You can also get a combination prevention that will take care of fleas, hookworms, roundworms, AND heartworms. There are multiple options for heartworm prevention for your pets, so you can find one that best suits your needs.
What if my pet is already heartworm positive?
While a positive test result is not good, it is not a death sentence. The sooner you know your pet has a heartworm infection, the sooner you can get rid of them. The longer a dog or cat has one or more adult heartworms, the more damage they will do. If your pet does come up positive, you need to seek treatment advice from a full service veterinarian ASAP. There are different options for treatment, so be sure you discuss all the benefits and risks with your veterinarian. Make sure to ask questions so that you can understand what your pet will be going through.
Prevention is the best “cure” for heartworms
All it takes is one bite from an infected mosquito and unlike hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whip-worms, you are unlikely to notice your pet has been infected until it is a major problem. Have your dog tested annually, and make sure all your pets are up to date on their heartworm prevention.