By Lorene Rockwell DVM
Most pet owners are familiar with Heartworm Disease, but I find many do not recognize the seriousness of the illness until it is too late. In the United States approximately 70 of every 5000 dogs that are owned and cared for by people will become infected each year with heartworms. Although this number may not seem very big, it becomes extremely important when it is your pet that is infected.
Heartworm disease is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites your dog and transmits the heartworm larvae. These larvae then migrate through the tissue from the site of infection into the bloodstream and then to the heart. Once in the heart they will lodge themselves in the pulmonary arteries and develop into mature adults. They then begin producing more microfilaria – the process from the time of the mosquito bite (infection) to production of microfilaria by adult worms is approximately 6 months. If a heartworm pill is administered during the first 30 days of infection it will kill 99-100% of the infective larvae, however if you wait until days 30 – 60 it is possible that the medication will not kill all of the larvae.
Dogs with heartworm disease must undergo treatment which can be extremely expensive ($1000 – $2000) and are at risk of developing multiple life threatening diseases such as congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary thromboembolus etc. Some of the symptoms of heartworm disease include coughing, decrease ability to exercise and increased respiratory rates. (These symptoms are also present in other diseases as well.)
Today heartworm disease is present in most of the nation and our weather patterns are no longer predictable (ie sometimes we get 50 degree weather in February) so we can no longer guarantee that our pets our safe unless they are receiving year round heartworm preventatives. Heartworm disease is a completely preventable. If you administer heartworm preventative tablets or topical preparations once a month year round the risk to your pet is reduced dramatically. No medication is 100% effective so you should have your pet tested for heartworm disease at your local veterinarian once a year.
If you are concerned that your pet may have been exposed to heartworm disease or would like more information please contact your local veterinarian. If you do not have a local veterinarian please contact Lorene Rockwell at Wolf Merrick Animal Hospital for more information.