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Protecting Your Pet From Heartworms

May 4 2024

April is designated as Heartworm Awareness Month. It is also National Brunch Month, Pecan Month, and Poetry Month. While those are undoubtedly more pleasant themes, heartworms are more in our wheelhouse. Every dog owner should be aware of these deadly and nasty worms. Continue reading as a local Westminster, MD veterinarian discusses some basic heartworm information.

How Do Dogs Get Heartworms?

Fido can’t contract heartworms from another dog through direct contact. In fact, the heartworm has hired everyone’s favorite insect—the mosquito—to spread them. That means Fido can become infected anywhere, including his own dog bed.

When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it picks up heartworm larvae, also known as microfilariae. When that mosquito bites another puppy, those microscopic heartworms are introduced into their bloodstream. They quickly grow and begin to reproduce.

Are Heartworms Treatable?

Fortunately, there are therapy options. However, these solutions can be costly and difficult for your furry friend. Your pet’s activities may need to be severely limited while he is being treated, to avoid overstressing his heart. That means only brief walks and no strenuous play—that isn’t much fun for the puppy! In more extreme cases, pets may be kenneled.

If the infestation is severe enough, surgery may be necessary. Needless to say, this can be pricey. During this period, your canine friend will also require close supervision.

What Are the Signs of a Heartworm Infection in Dogs?

You may also not see anything until the worms reach maturity, which can take up to six months. The first sign of trouble is usually a dry, slight cough. You may also notice that Fido lacks energy.

Here are some of the things you should look for:

  • Persistent Coughing
  • Appetite Loss
  • Having trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in play
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Gums that are discolored
  • Nosebleeds
  • Swollen abdomen

If the infection persists, more severe symptoms will appear over time. These symptoms can include fainting, staggering, and heart attacks. Unfortunately, sudden death is also a possibility. If you notice any of these signs, contact your Westminster, MD vet right away.

Can Fluffy  Contract Heartworms?

Unfortunately, yes. Infestations are relatively uncommon in cats, simply because feline bodies are less receptive to the worms than their canine counterparts’ are. However, you should not assume Fluffy is safe. Even a single worm can cause irreversible organ damage in a cat. What’s even more disturbing is that cats may die suddenly without warning indications. Keep up with your feline friend’s preventative care.

Do Any Other Animals Develop Heartworms?

Heartworms can infect any canine species. That includes not just Man’s Best Friend, but also his cousins, the wolf, coyote, and fox. Cats and ferrets are also susceptible. They’ve even been detected in sea lions!

How Can I Keep My Dog from Getting Heartworms?

The most important thing would be to maintain Fido’s preventative care. It also won’t hurt to take precautions to keep mosquitoes away. Sonic repellers are one option. Making your land more appealing to pollinators and bats can also help. A single bat can consume 600 mosquitoes in a single night! Standing water tends to create mosquito nurseries, so be sure to empty buckets and plant pots when it rains.

What Happens If I Forget Fido’s Preventative Care?

You will need to have your canine companion tested again before resuming. This is because the products used to protect Fido from infestations do not kill actual worms, only their larvae. If your pet is already infested, preventative care will not protect him against the worms that have already entered his body. For more information, consult with your veterinarian.

How Frequently Should My Dog Be Tested For Heartworms?

For the majority of our canine companions, yearly tests will be sufficient. However, certain dogs may require more frequent examinations. Remember that certain pets will be more at risk than others. Spending time with other dogs would, of course, increase Fido’s risk. Your pooch does not even need to come into direct contact with the pups; a neighbor’s dog three homes down could transmit them to him via the ever-annoying mosquito.

Are Heartworms Becoming More Common?

It appears so. As is generally the case with any form of treatment or parasitic prevention, some worms appear to be developing resistance. Furthermore, it is becoming more popular for dogs to be adopted and relocated from one region of the country to another, contributing to the increase in numbers. For example, following Hurricane Katrina, many people adopted dogs from the South. Louisiana, though beautiful, is a heartworm hotspot, because of its warm, damp, climate, which both people and mosquitos love. Many of the dogs that were rescued after the storm had lapses in preventative care, due to the disaster. As a result, cases surged in the north following those adoptions.

Having said that, there is no reason to panic. Simply keep up with your canine companion’s preventative care and keep an eye out for symptoms. If you notice anything that seems out of place, contact your veterinarian right away!

Is It Necessary To Give Dogs Heartworm Prevention Every Month?

Fido’s heartworm prevention should be up to date. The exact schedule varies, depending on the product. If he is on a monthly plan, then he will require it every month. However, there are now preventative products that can last up to six or twelve months. Ask your vet for specific advice.

What Season Do Dogs Get Heartworms In?

Summer is the most harmful season in most places, because it’s when mosquitoes are most active. Fido technically can contract them at any time. The risk exists all year in the south. Even in the north, the occasional mosquito makes it further into winter than one would expect. (It’s also worth mentioning that rising average temperatures may raise the risk of infection over the winter.)

Are Some Breeds More Prone To Heartworm Than Others?

Heartworms can infect any dog at any time in its life.

Puppies with thin fur may be at a slightly higher risk, simply because mosquitoes can bite them more easily. However, this does not mean longhaired dogs are safe. Fluffy dogs are still susceptible.

What Do the Statistics Say About Heartworms?

In terms of the numbers, the picture is not very appealing.

  • Heartworms can be transmitted by more than 70 different mosquitos.
  • Female heartworms can reach lengths of up to 10 inches. Males get to about 12.
  • They look like spaghetti.
  • The larvae can live inside the mosquito for one month. 
  • Once a dog is affected, it only takes 6 to 7 months for the worms to reach adulthood and begin multiplying.

Where Is the Heartworm Most Common?

Heartworms are a threat anyplace there are mosquitos. Several cases have been documented throughout North America. Unfortunately, this means that Fido can become sick anywhere in the United States or Canada. Nonetheless, the states with the greatest heartworm cases are located in hotter, wetter climates. Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina all had very high concentrations.

Make an Appointment With Your Westminster, MD Animal Clinic

Do you need to catch up on your dog’s heartworm treatment? Is Fido’s appointment overdue? Contact your local Westminster, MD pet clinic at any time.