Heartworm: A Little Knowledge Can Help Prevent Your Pet from Falling Victim

German ShepherdSummer’s nearly here, which means heartworm season is already here. You may have heard or thought that heartworm is a problem mainly in southern states where mosquitos are more prevalent, but that’s no longer true. It’s a definite concern here in Colorado, too. It’s especially concerning in areas around rivers, streams and stagnant bodies of water. Like Kersey and surrounding areas.

If not discovered and treated, heartworm can be a death sentence for your pet. Fortunately, it’s easily preventable through a heartworm blood test, then a monthly preventative. If you understand the heartworm lifecycle, you’ll better understand the reasons why annual testing and monthly prophylaxis are imperative for ensuring that your furry friends stay free of this deadly parasite. Here’s a short summary of what you need to know.

A dog or cat with heartworm disease will have adult heartworms living in the pulmonary artery. These worms steal nutrients, block blood flow and inhibit breathing. Eventually, they mate and produce microscopic larvae called microfilaria that circulate in the blood.

When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it ingests the microfilaria, which grow in the mosquito into an infective state. The mosquito then transmits these microfilaria to the next animal they bite. If the heartworm larvae are allowed to survive, they will grow into adult worms in about 6 months. These worms migrate through the blood and body tissues, eventually taking up residence in the pulmonary artery, where they begin the lifecycle all over.

The good news is heartworm is easy to prevent through a monthly preventative. However, starting heartworm preventative without first testing for the presence of heartworm can result in a serious even fatal condition. The medication does not kill adult heartworms, so they will continue to thrive causing severe problems for your animal. If heartworm microfilaria are already present, the medication can cause an anaphylactic shock reaction that could be fatal to your pet.

If your dog tests positive for heartworm, it’s important to start treatment immediately as the effectiveness of treatment depends on how far the disease has progressed and how much damage has occurred.

Although both dogs and cats can get heartworm disease, it’s much less common in cats, and the test is less effective. Therefore, many veterinarians do not test or advise the prevention methods described above. However, if your cat shows signs of lethargy, trouble breathing or coughing, do contact your veterinarian, who may recommend testing for the parasite.

So yes, starting your furry friend on heartworm preventative is important, but only after you test to make sure the parasite is not already present. There are several types of prophylactic medications and they do require a prescription. More and more veterinarians are recommending year-round prevention to better ensure protection. Contact Powell Veterinary Service at 970-352-9164 to schedule a quick blood test, and get your dog the type and frequency of heartworm protection he or she needs.