Oh mosquitoes, the southern states’ national bird! While we humans find them quite a biting buzzing bother, our pets have a different grievance with these insects. It’s called heartworm disease, and it can be life threatening.

I’m sure you have seen the commercials and have heard your veterinarian go on about “monthly preventions,” and it’s largely in part due to this sinister blood-borne parasite.

Heartworms are transmitted through a single mosquito bite. That’s it! It only takes one tiny bug to infect your dog or cat. When a mosquito takes a blood meal, it injects microscopic microfilaria (baby worm) into your pet’s blood stream where it travels to the heart and lungs to mature into a macroscopic worm. Once here, the worms continue to grow and multiply, thus causing irreversible damage to these organs and shortening the lifespan of our pets.

This whole process takes about 6 months, and once mature, the adult worms can live up to 7 years in dogs and up to 3 years in cats.

From a public health standpoint, that creates longevity for this parasite to circulate throughout our community. Because you see, if a non-infected mosquito bites an infected pet, that insect now becomes a carrier for the disease too.

From a personal pet standpoint, that is a long time to have an infestation wreaking havoc on some of their body’s vital functions. Current heartworm positive treatments are extensive, expensive, require strict rest to prevent thromboemboli (blood clots) and some of the side effects can be equally as hard on the body as the disease process itself.

So, how can you tell at home if your dog has heartworms?

In the beginning, it may not be obvious at all. Without intervention you may start to notice a cough, exercise intolerance, or decreased appetite, all of which are quite vague signs. Advanced disease ends with heart failure, large round abdomens full of fluid, labored breathing, collapse, and even death.

Therefore, yearly heartworm testing is highly recommended and routinely performed so that we can detect, intervene, and stop the progression of this preventable disease.

In all fairness, heartworm disease is far less common in cats than in dogs, as dogs are the natural host for this parasite. But if you have adventurous outdoor cat, they can be easily exposed as well.

So, what can you do to help keep your pets safe and protected?

The answer is simple. That dang monthly prevention you hear so much about! There are all kinds of brands, formulations, and drugs on the market from topical to oral chews to injectables. It can be a bit overwhelming if I am honest as it’s not a one-size fits all medication. No fear though! This is where we, your Whole Pet Veterinarians, come into play. We can help guide you to what we feel is the safest and best product for you and your pets’ lifestyle. Just call to make an appointment or inquire about your current selection at your next visit.

Additional resources can be found on the American Heartworm Society webpage or reach out to your favorite veterinarian here at Whole Pet Veterinary Hospital to answer any question you might have about Heartworms or monthly preventions.

By: Dr. Comeaux