When the air starts to warm and the frosts depart until October, it means the beginning of heartworm season for pet owners. In our area this usually begins in April or May. For most of us this means starting our pets on heartworm preventative, some of them for the very first time. There are all kinds of questions that commonly come up during this season, ranging from “What’s a heartworm?” to “What product should I use?” Let’s take a little time to answer these questions.
Q: What is heartworm?
A: Heartworm is a parasite that lives inside dogs and cats and feeds off of blood. It’s called Heartworm because as an adult it takes up residence in the heart of the host. The parasite is transferred to pets through mosquito bites, and so can be contracted in 49 states; the only exception being Alaska.
Q: How can I tell if my pet has heartworm?
A: A simple, inexpensive blood test can definitively determine if your dog is infected with adult female heartworms. Sometimes a dog may be infected with very few, all immature or all male heartworms. This small margin of error makes it important to have your pet tested once every three years or so, more often if they have been without preventative treatment, or have traveled to a location with a higher incidence of heartworms.
Q: How can I prevent heartworm infection in my pets?
A: There are many over-the-counter products which are somewhat effective. Our hospital provides prescription strength preventatives and the peace of mind that goes along with such medicine. We have two preventatives available. The first is a chewable pill given orally: Interceptor. Interceptor not only prevents heartworm infections, but also acts as a dewormer, removing hookworms, roundworms and whipworms from your animal’s system. The second product is applied topically: Revolution. Revolution offers the same protection against heartworm that Interceptor does, but it also protects against fleas, ticks, ear mites and sarcoptic mange. Both preventatives need to be given monthly, and both are available for dogs and cats.
Q: My Heartworm test came back positive, what do I do?
A: There’s no simple, straight forward answer. Treatment will depend largely on the heart, liver, and kidney function of your pet. The best thing for you to do is to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to arrange treatment or referral to another facility. Heartworm disease is treatable, but meets with the best success when detected early. It’s very important to keep up to date on your heartworm tests so you’ll know as soon as possible if your pet is infected.
Q: What are the symptoms of heartworm infection?
A: Often there will be little or no indication of infection until it becomes very serious. More active dogs, or dogs with a greater parasite load, will often first present with a cough, with early exhaustion when exercising. If not treated, symptoms progress to weight loss, fainting, coughing up blood and, ultimately, heart failure as the heart gets clogged with worms.
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