Heartworm Disease

Apr 14, 2021   Tracey Aston   Health & Wellness

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring mud puddles and standing water – the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. When temperatures consistently stay around 50 degrees, mosquitos will begin to come out of hibernation and breed.  Itchy mosquito bites aren't the only problem to worry about with these pesky blood suckers returning from their winter rest.  As all pet owners know, mosquitos carry heartworm.

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease passed onto our pets through the bite of an infected mosquito. Heartworm disease is caused by heartworms living in the heart, lungs and surrounding blood vessels of the pet. As they worms continue to grow, they can cause heart failure, lung disease and damage to blood vessels and organs. In the early stages of the disease, many dogs show few symptoms or no symptoms at all and most pet parents don't know their pet is ill until it's too late.

For this reason, prevention is by far the best option.  Heartworm preventatives are usually given as a monthly chew and work by killing the heartworm larvae before it can reach dangerous stages that cause damage to the heart muscle.  Heartworm preventative is fairly inexpensive. Depending on a pet's weight, a year's supply of heartworm preventative can cost between $35 and $80. All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care.

Signs of progressed heartworm disease can include coughing, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Once the heartworm reaches this stage of development, treatment can be costly and potentially dangerous to your pet. Treatment is given through a series of injections of Immiticide and the pet must be kept as calm as possible and be allowed to rest. Depending on the severity of the damage caused by the heartworm, some pets will be able to go back to normal activity within a few months of treatment.

As it only takes one mosquito to pass on heartworm to your pet, preventive medication remains the best option. However, there are some steps that can be taken to make your lawn and home much less hospitable to mosquitos.  Mosquitoes can breed in small amounts of stagnant water, which can be found in pools, buckets, bird baths, flower pots, toys, rain gutters, and low-lying areas in the yard. After rain make sure to dump all buckets, toys or empty flower pots that may be holding leftover rain water.  Dump kiddie or baby pools after each use and don't allow them to sit in the yard after use.

If after you have removed all possible breeding grounds, you still have a problem with mosquitoes, consider pet-friendly and non-toxic bug control such products made with Citronella, Peppermint or Eucalyptus. These products can reduce the risk of mosquitos but do NOT eliminate the possibility of them entirely.

Heartworm disease can be very scary, and with symptoms staying hidden until damage is done, it can be dangerous too! Thankfully, with one inexpensive monthly chew, it is also extremely preventable. 

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