When it comes to the well being of our furry family members, their heath and happiness is always our priority. One of the best ways to keep your pet(s) healthy is to practice preventative medicine. Prevention of heartworm disease is a very important piece of the preventative medicine puzzle. The first step in prevention of any illness is having a better understanding of the disease. According to The American Heartworm Society (AHS), more than one million pets in the U.S. have heartworm disease. In addition, (although quite more common in certain territories of the country), heartworm disease has reached all 50 states making this a widespread condition. Transmission of this disease is through mosquitoes, allowing for easy and fast transmission – especially in humid climates, like the southeast. Even states with a more temperate climate like California and Arizona where the disease was once considered rare are no longer safe from the spread.
Affecting both dogs and cats, heartworm disease can be more than just harmful, it can be fatal. Heartworm disease attacks vital functions in our pets including, the heart, lungs and pulmonary blood vessels. There is an old saying that goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. When dealing with the stress of heartworm disease (physical, mental, and financial) this saying definitely rings true to home. There are a few FAQs I have encountered during my time spent in veterinary medicine and therefore I felt it would be helpful to skew this post in that direction. Remember if you ever have additional concerns or questions about a topic presented here feel free to leave a comment or even speak to your veterinarian directly for information.
What are Heartworms and how do our dogs get them? Can other animals or people get them?
A Heartworm is a tiny worm that spends most of it life cycle in a dog’s blood vessels and heart. These parasites are different than intestinal worms and are spread by contact with mosquitoes. Dogs can not directly infect you or pass these to other animals. However, a mosquito that fed on an infected dog can spread the disease to another unprotected dog or cat. Being consistent with your Heartworm preventative will protect your pet and will actually protect many surrounding dogs by minimizing the parasite’s ability to spread. Dogs are the intended hosts for Heartworms but other animals have been known to contract Heartworms. So your kitty is not safe without protection either. In dogs, the worms can cause asthma like reactions, heart disease, embolus (clot) of the lungs and even congestive heart failure. Left untreated over time, heartworms are fatal to most infested dogs. Unfortunately not everyone protects their pet against this diseases and the unprotected population keeps the disease a constant threat to all dogs and cats that may miss a dose or two of their medicine.
There are very few reported cases in the United States of a human becoming infected with heartworms. Therefore, though not impossible to occur, it is certainly not something that I would lose sleep over.
How do you test for this disease?
The easiest method for determining whether your pet has contracted Heartworm disease is to perform a blood test. This test can be performed in the our clinic here at SportsVet in a matter of moments after acquiring only a few drops of blood from your dog. This is an important and necessary screening procedure to assure that the medication is continuing to keep your pet safe from the diseases that are prevalent in our area. In short, it is an essential part of your pet’s preventative care regimen. We require that your dog be routinely tested at his or her yearly physical exam or if there has been a lapse in treatment as proceeding with preventative in an infected dog without appropriate care can be life threatening .
If your pet is showing signs consistent with the possibility that he or she may have contracted Heartworm disease, we may recommend a more specific test sent to an outside laboratory to confirm the presence of the parasite and the extent of the damage it is causing (we may also recommend a full blood panel as well as chest x-rays).
Isn’t there a treatment for this disease?
If caught early enough there are treatment options to address Heartworm disease. However, the recommended treatment course for infection may vary from vet to vet, but regardless of which option you choose the risk for reactions (sometimes fatal) to treatment are high and the cost is nothing to laugh at either. Additionally, once damage has already occurred to the heart and lungs it cannot be reversed. The gold-standard for early treatment of heartworm disease includes injections with a medication that is frequently in short supply (translation – expensive). The delicate location of these parasites additionally requires post-treatment precautions, including several MONTHS of strict cage rest. If these precautions are not followed, life threatening clots move to the lungs, further complicating an already damaged essential organ. This is why we strongly recommend prevention with a safe and easy monthly treatment. By regularly using preventative you will never know how many times it has protected your furry friend. Think of it this way, most of us have never been hit by a car, but that doesn’t mean we don’t look both ways before crossing the street.
So what can I do about this problem?
The best news about all of this is that prevention of Heartworm disease is very easy. Your pet does not need advanced treatments or even messy baths or dips. He or she does not need to take a daily pill, or fancy shots to keep worms at bay. All that is needed is medicine given once-a-month done in the stress free environment of your own home via an oral pill or a topical medication.
Currently, there are several products available which are both safe and effective in preventing the Heartworms from infesting your furry friend. SportsVet currently carries multiple products for heartworm prevention in the clinic including Heartguard, Trifexis, and Sentinel for your canine companions (additional options for cats and dogs are available via our online pharmacy). Due to the vast differences in products available be sure to discuss any questions or concerns about the best product for your pet with your veterinarian or veterinary technician
I’m not sure I can afford preventative.
Ok, so this is not a question, but something that comes up in these difficult times. I would argue that you cannot afford NOT to use preventatives. At SportsVet, we try to make Heartworm prevention as affordable as possible. When used correctly it is guaranteed to prevent infestation. However, if not used and you pet contracts Heartworm disease, the cost of treatment, the emotional toll and the risk to your dog would pay for several lifetimes of prevention. When you add in the fact that the major Heartworm preventatives also eliminate intestinal parasites that can spread to people, you are getting a great deal of value in a small package. Certainly, your pooch or kitty will appreciate the safety to run outside free of risk over buying him/her a new collar, toy or bed. For that much cost you can truly show your pet how much you love him or her.
Ok, now go enjoy the good weather. If you’d like to review more information please visit
the American Heartworm society’s website