Busting Heartworm Myths

It Only Takes One Mosquito Bite, Even Indoor Pets are at Risk

04.02.15 HeartwormsApril is National Heartworm Awareness Month and SPCA Florida is addressing the top 3 myths surrounding this potentially fatal, but preventable disease.

So what is a heartworm? It’s a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. The worms travel through the bloodstream in order to get to the vessels of the lungs and the heart chamber. It takes about six months after the initial infection for this to occur and the heartworms cause damage to arteries and vital organs along the way. Several hundred worms can live in one dog for five to seven years. Symptoms of heartworm infestation can include labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss and listlessness, and fatigue after only moderate exercise. However, some dogs exhibit no symptoms at all until late stages of infection. Heartworm disease is serious and can be fatal.

04.02.15 Heartworms-infographicMyth 1: My pets stay indoors so they’re not at risk.

Who hasn’t had a mosquito buzzing around inside before? It only takes one mosquito bite for your pet to get heartworms. Even strictly indoor cats are at risk. Heartworm infestation can happen to any dog (as well as cats and some wild animals), but since mosquitoes are their carriers, dogs who live in hot, humid regions—conditions in which mosquitoes thrive—are at the greatest risk. The disease has been seen in all 50 states, but is most common in or on the East Coast, southern United States and Mississippi River Valley.

Myth 2: I give my pet a monthly preventative, so he or she doesn’t need to be tested yearly.

Actually, the majority of medications and manufacturers require a yearly test. Heartworm disease is diagnosed by a veterinarian-administered blood test. All dogs should be routinely screened with a blood test for heartworm either annually in spring, at the start of mosquito season, or before being placed on a new prescription for a heartworm preventive.

04.02.15 Heartworms-infographic2Myth 3: My Pomeranian, with a thick coat, is not at a great risk of getting heartworms.

All animals are at risk for contracting heartworms, including dogs, cats, and other wild animals, no matter the thickness of their coat.

How do I ensure my pet doesn’t get them?

The good news in this situation is that heartworms are easily prevented with inexpensive, chewable pills that are available with a prescription from a veterinarian. Pills are usually administered monthly and can be given to dogs under 6 months of age without a blood test, but older animals must be screened for the disease prior to starting medication. There are also topical products available that can be applied to the skin.

What happens if my pet has heartworms?

If you suspect that your animal may be exhibiting signs associated with the symptoms of heartworms, take them to a veterinarian for a thorough examination. If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, the only FDA approved treatment is a series of injections into the dogs’ muscle. The cure has a high success rate, but usually requires hospitalization; an intense process with cage rest and leash walks. After treatment, your animal will be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of infection.

For more information on heartworms or to book your pet’s test or purchase preventatives, please call (863) 646-7722.