By Dr. Kim Cargill, DVM
As people and pets begin to come out of our winter blues and into our spring time hopes of sunshine, we find that we are not alone in our anticipation. Parasites, those nasty little bugs that we try not to think about, also find this to be a prime time to come out of hiding. And given the relatively mild winter we comparatively had this year in Upstate NY, they are likely to return in even higher numbers than years past.
In particular, April is heartworm disease awareness month. According to the American Heartworm Society, more than 1 million pets in the United States have heartworm disease, and it has been diagnosed in all 50 states. Heartworm disease is a life threatening infection that is caused by a blood parasite transmitted through mosquitoes. The parasite matures into an adult worm that lives primarily in the blood vessels of the lungs and heart. Many species are susceptible to heartworm disease. Dogs, cats and ferrets are more common house hold pets affected. But it can also be seen animals such as foxes, coyotes, and rarely even people.
The damage caused from heartworm infection can remain the rest of the pet’s life. Definitive treatment is only available for dogs, who are the natural host for the heartworm disease infection. Treatment in and of itself can be costly and life threatening, and can have a huge impact on the pet’s quality of life. In our practice here at Cicero Animal Clinic, we have had many cases of heartworm disease diagnosed over the years. For instance, in 2014 we had 5 cases diagnosed. Treatment costs can rise into the thousands, and during treatment (which may take months) the pet’s activity must be strictly restricted to minimize complications. For all other species, prevention is really the only option.
There are numerous preventatives available for the different species and can be administered in multiple different ways, such as oral or topical. Though nothing is 100% protective, the preventions are very good and many are guaranteed if supplied through your veterinarian (since they are prescription products) and administered correctly.
Additionally, screening testing for heartworm disease is recommended annually for dogs, starting when they are around 7 months old according to the American Heartworm Society. We do require this testing to maintain a dog on heartworm prevention, as complications can occur if these medications are administered to an infected dog.
The American Heartworm Society website is a tremendous recourse filled with information on treatment, prevention, and videos regarding the transmission of the disease. We are also happy to help answer any questions you may have, and to help you choose the best preventative for your pet.
American Heartworm Society Website: