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Protecting Your Pet from Heartworms

April 1, 2024

April is recognized as Heartworm Awareness Month. It’s also National Brunch, Pecan, and Poetry Months. While those are undeniably more pleasant subjects, heartworms are more our style. Every dog owner should be aware of these dangerous and unpleasant worms. Continue reading as a local Carlisle, ON veterinarian goes over some basic heartworm facts.

How Does a Dog Get Heartworms?

Fido cannot catch heartworms from another dog through direct contact. In fact, the heartworm has recruited everyone’s favorite bug, the mosquito, to spread it. That means Fido can get sick anywhere, even in his own dog bed.

When a mosquito attacks an infected dog, it picks up heartworm larvae, which are also called microfilariae. When the annoying little monster bites another puppy, heartworms are transferred into the bloodstream. They soon start to grow and reproduce.

Are Heartworm Infestations Treatable?

Fortunately, there are possibilities for treatment. However, these options can be pricey and difficult for your canine companion. Your pet’s activities may need to be severely restricted while he is being treated to avoid overstressing his heart. That means just short walks and no hard play—which isn’t particularly enjoyable for the pup! In more extreme cases, pets may be kenneled.

If the infestation is severe, surgery may be required. Needless to say, this can be expensive. During this time, your canine pal will also need close supervision. 

This is a definite case of an ounce of prevention being worth several pounds of cure.

What Are the Signs of a Heartworm Infection in a Dog?

You may not notice anything until the worms mature, which can take as long as six months. The first sign of concern is typically a dry, mild cough. You may also notice Fido losing energy.

Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Discolored gums
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bloating
  • Appetite loss
  • Respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath 
  • Fatigue
  • Laziness/Exercise Intolerance
  • Lack of interest in play 

If the infection persists, more serious symptoms will develop over time. These symptoms may include fainting, staggering, or heart attacks. Unfortunately, abrupt death is also a possibility.

Can Cats Contract Heartworms?

Yes. Cats are less susceptible to worms than dogs, so feline heartworm infestations are somewhat unusual. However, don’t assume your kitty is safe. Even one worm can cause irreparable organ damage in a cat. What’s more alarming is that cats can die unexpectedly and without warning signs. Keep up with Fluffy’s preventative care.

Do Other Animals Develop Heartworms?

Heartworms can infect all canine species. This contains not just Man’s Best Friend, but also his cousins the wolf, coyote, and fox. Cats and ferrets can also be affected. Even sea lions can get them!

Is It Possible For People To Get Heartworms?

Yes. Humans are capable of contracting heartworm. Fortunately, this is highly uncommon.

How Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Heartworms?

The most important thing is to continue Fido’s preventative care. Other than that, simple precautions can be taken to repel mosquitoes. Sonic repellents are one alternative. Making your land more inviting to pollinators and bats will also help. A single bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in one night! Standing water tends to generate mosquito breeding grounds, so dump buckets and plant pots after it’s rained.

What Happens If I Forget Fido’s Preventative Care?

Your dog must be retested before starting up again. This is because the products used to keep Fido safe from parasites do not kill living worms. If your pet has already been infested, preventative care will not protect him from the worms that he may already have. For more information, speak with your Carlisle, ON veterinarian.

How Often Should My Canine Companion Be Tested For Heartworms?

Annual checks will suffice for most dogs. However, certain dogs may require more frequent checkups. Remember that some pets will be more at risk than others. Spending time with other dogs will, of course, increase your pet’s risks. However, Fido doesn’t even have to come into direct contact with an infected dog; a neighbor’s dog three houses down could spread them to him via mosquito.

Are Heartworms Becoming More Common?

Sadly, yes. As is common with any type of treatment or parasite prophylaxis, some worms appear to be building resistance. Furthermore, it is becoming more common for dogs to be adopted and moved from one section of the country to another, which contributes to the increase in population. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many people obtained pets from the South. Louisiana, as previously stated, is a heartworm hotspot due to its warm, humid climate. As a result, it’s not surprising that cases have increased in the north.

Having said that, there’s no need to panic. Simply keep up with your canine companion’s preventative care and watch for symptoms. If you detect anything out of place, contact your veterinarian immediately!

Is It Necessary To Give Fido Heartworm Prevention Every Month?

Fido’s heartworm prevention medication should be up to date. Depending on the product, the timeline may be different. If he’s on a monthly plan, he’ll need it each month. There are now preventative products that can last for six to twelve months.

People in northern regions, such as here in Canada, may decide to discontinue taking the medication throughout the winter. While it is ultimately up to the owner, we recommend staying with it, especially when average temperatures rise. Consult your Carlisle, ON  veterinarian for specific advice.

Which Time Of Year Do Dogs Typically Contract Heartworms?

Summer is the most dangerous season in most regions because mosquitos are more active. The risk is present all year in the south.

The risk is somewhat reduced in the north during the winter, but still persists. Some mosquitoes survive in the cold for much longer than predicted. (It’s also worth noting that rising average temperatures could increase the danger of illness throughout the winter.)

Are Certain Breeds More Prone To Heartworms Than Others?

No. Heartworms can infect any dog at any point in its life. Puppies with thin fur, on the other hand, may be more vulnerable to mosquito bites. However, this does not mean that longhaired dogs are immune; fluffy dogs are also vulnerable.

Is There An Awareness Slogan For Heartworms?

The American Heartworm Society launched the campaign Love Your Pet – Protect Their Hearts.

What Do The Statistics Say About Heartworms?

In terms of numbers, the picture is not particularly promising.

  • Heartworms can be carried by over 70 distinct mosquitos.
  • Female heartworms can grow to lengths of up to 10 inches. Males reach the age of approximately 12.
  • They look like spaghetti. The larvae can stay inside the mosquito for a month.
  • Once a dog is infected, it only takes 6 to 7 months for the worms to mature and begin multiplying.

Where Are Heartworms Most Common?

Heartworms pose a threat anywhere there are mosquitos. Several cases have been reported across North America. Unfortunately, this means Fido might get sick anywhere in the United States or Canada. 

Schedule an Appointment with Your Carlisle, ON Animal Clinic.

Do you need to catch up with your dog’s heartworm treatment? Is Fido’s appointment overdue? Contact your local Carlisle, ON veterinary hospital at any time. We are dedicated to providing top notch care.

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