Do You Really Need Heartworm Prevention for Your Pet?

By April 17, 2020 Green Acres Blog

If you have lived in Idaho most of your life, there is a fair chance you are not familiar with heartworm infections and the terrible disease processes these parasites can cause.

Idaho is fortunate to have been relatively insulated from the spread of Heartworm Disease so far.  Unfortunately, the ranges of invasive and longer living mosquitoes are increasing, thereby expanding areas endemic to disease.  Due to the steady spread of heartworm, many area vets (including us at Green Acres Pet Center) have recently begun recommending heartworm preventatives.  We hope to provide a brief overview of the basics surrounding this disease.  We are, of course, always available for consultation regarding what you may need for your individual pet.

What is a Heartworm?
– A Heartworm is a blood parasite spread from pet to pet by mosquitoes.
– Adult worms attach inside the vessels of the heart where they mature and reproduce.  This can cause severe heart and lung disease that can lead to death.

Is Heartworm here in Idaho?
– To our knowledge, we have not yet started to see cases contracted in our state, but we have treated cases here in Idaho where pets originated from other states then moved into the area.
– The range of heartworm disease is increasing as the range of the mosquitoes most capable of transmitting it expands.  These mosquitos, Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger) and Aedes aegypti both have expanding ranges that have been found in neighboring states.  Most recently the Aedes aegypti has been identified in traps in Moab, UT.
– The most imminent threat of spread to Idaho dogs may be the Western Treehole mosquito (Aedes sierrensis).  This mosquito is both known to transmit heartworm disease and to exist here in Idaho.  This leads many vets to suspect that it is only a matter of time before we have an outbreak.

Which of my pets are susceptible?
– According to the American Heartworm Society, Heartworm Disease is seen in dogs, cats, and ferrets, as well as several other wild mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and wolves.
– Dogs are a natural host for heartworms.  They may be the most susceptible species since heartworms that live in dogs mature into adults, and then produce offspring.  Mature heartworms can live 5 to 7 years in dogs.
– Cats can also get heartworm disease, though they are an atypical host and adult worms rarely survive.  This can mean Heartworm disease is even harder to detect in cats and makes prevention even more important.

How do I prevent Heartworm in my pets?
–Prevention medication is the key to preventing Heartworm Disease.
– There are a couple of options for the prevention of heartworms in dogs, an injectable (once or twice yearly) OR an oral monthly preventative chew.  The best option may be different for each dog.
– For prevention in cats, a topical medication is most commonly used monthly for ease of administration.
– A negative heartworm test is required before beginning preventative treatment because preventative medications can be fatal if given to an already infected dog or cat.

Is there a treatment for this disease?
– Yes, but the necessary treatment for Heartworm Disease can itself be deadly.  Treatment may take several months and is painful, uncomfortable, and life threatening for your dog.  Unfortunately, there is no current approved drug therapy for the treatment of cats with this disease.
– This is one disease that it is far better to prevent than to treat, which is one of the primary reasons we are preemptively recommending prevention.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding Heartworm Disease and prevention, please call us at (208) 734-2711, as we are happy to help with all your pets’ preventative needs.

-Bryan Johnson DVM

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