Heartworms: What You Need to Know

February is National Heart Month and even though it usually makes you think about human heart disease, it is a good time to talk about heartworms in our pets. This is a very real threat to our pets, but luckily it is preventable.

What is a Heartworm?

Heartworms are a parasitic worm that normally live floating in the right ventricle of the heart and nearby blood vessels. They are about the diameter of angel hair pasta, but can grow to be up to be 12 inches long. Heartworms can affects dogs and cats, ferrets and other mammals, such as coyotes, raccoons and foxes.  However, it can only be passed on by mosquitoes. A dog can’t give it to another dog or cat to cat.  It can be only be transmitted if an animal with heartworms is bitten by a mosquito who ingests the immature larvae.  The larvae will start to mature and then they are transferred when the mosquito bite another animal, infesting the muscles and blood vessels as they mature into adult worms. In very rare cases, heartworms have infected people, but it does not complete its life cycle which means we aren’t affected the way our pets are.

Image from Wikipedia


How to Prevent Heartworms

The only good thing about heartworms is that they are preventable.  What’s even better is that the prevention is more than affordable.  It costs less than a weekly cup of cafe coffee to prevent heartworm disease in your dog. Depending on the size of your pet a year’s supply can cost anywhere from $35 to $85.  The prevention is by far more affordable than the treatment.  You can get your pet monthly topicals that you put on the back of their necks (under the fur and on the skin) or month tablets you put in their food, and there’s even a six-month inject-able product.

Heartworm prevention medication works by eliminating the immature larvae before they reach the adult stage of development.  It take as little as 51 days for an immature larvae to molt into an adult stage.  Once the heartworm has fully developed they can not be eliminated with preventatives.  That’s why it is so important to keep your pets protected.

The American Heartworm Society recommends year-round heartworm prevention.  Some pet parents tend to think that it’s not needed in the winter months where mosquitoes aren’t around, but year-round is definitely the way to go. Not only does it make it easier to not forget their treatment, many of the preventatives on the market include intestinal parasite control for parasites such as tapeworms or roundworms.  If you use it year round and happen to miss a month they should be okay, but you don’t want to miss more than a month of treatment to keep them protected.

We all want what is best for our pets and something as simple as an inexpensive monthly treatment can ensure a long and healthy life free of heartworms. If you haven’t started heartworm prevention in your pet, then talk to your vet immediately about available preventative care. 



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