Staying Ahead of Heartworm
April 3, 2014
Prevention is Key to Heartworm Disease
The Rock River is rising which means warm weather is just around the corner. Unfortunately it also means mosquitoes will be showing up soon, too. In addition to being a pesky little annoyance they are also carriers of a potentially deadly disease.
Mosquitoes are the primary source of heartworm infections in both dogs and cats. They carry the microfilaria (baby stage) of the parasite Dirofilaria immitis (heartworm). Upon biting a dog or cat, they will pass into the blood stream and land in the heart and lungs. Once there, these parasites mature and grow to be worms that reach up to 12-14” in length. After establishing themselves in the heart, the worms breed causing the infection to progress rapidly. This is also the point at which new microfilaria can be picked up and passed to mosquitoes who subsequently can spread the disease to another unsuspecting pet.
Current heartworm testing is only able to detect the presence of these new microfilaria. This means that the first 6 months after infection there are no symptoms noted but we are also unable to even detect their presence. By the time we find heartworms present they are mature enough to begin damaging the heart. The first clinical signs that a heartworm infection may be present are coughing, lethargy and exercise intolerance. If left untreated most patients with active heartworm infections will die of congestive heart failure.
But It’s not all doom and gloom with heartworm disease. If we diagnose heartworm infections early we can treat dogs before significant damage is done to the heart. Although the ability exits to treat heartworm disease, the treatment is expensive and carries significant potential side effects. Thankfully, the disease is almost entirely preventable. Monthly heartworm preventatives such as Heartgard are 99% effective in preventing heartworm disease. In addition to protecting patients from heartworms most preventatives also help to prevent routine parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms. Contact your veterinarian soon to discuss getting your dog (and even your cat) protected from this potentially life threatening disease!
Dr. Mike Hotchkiss, DVM
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