With winter coming up some may think they can cut back on heartworm prevention, because the weather gets cooler. But this is not the time to skip prevention, for any reason. South Carolina is in the top 10 states for cases of heartworm disease in dogs. Heartworm disease has been seen in all 50 states. Mosquitos are still present even in the cooler months and therefore the threat of heartworm disease is still present.
Mosquitos spread heartworm disease to cats and dogs in the Charleston area and throughout the country. Contrary to what some believe they are not found in the stool, but rather in the blood. Mosquitos bite an affected animal and pick up microfilaria (baby heartworms) and then carry them to another animal and transmit in the next bite. After a bite it takes approximately 6 months for the worms to grow to adult heartworms (can grow up to a foot long). Once they are adults the worms set up home in the heart, lungs, and surrounding vessels in the pet. The heartworms can live for several years, once mature, and each mosquito bite can bring more baby worms to mature. This means that each bite can produce worms that can increase the severity of the disease.
Early in the disease there is not very many symptoms in pets. Once the disease progresses the signs include a cough, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, weight loss, heart failure, and swollen look (from retained fluid). If heartworms are not treated they can lead to life threatening complications and/or death. It is important to have your dog tested once a year or any time after being off prevention to look for heartworms. Even being on prevention, it is still good to have your dog tested because the earlier the disease is caught the less damage is done.
Treatment for heartworm disease is expensive and invasive. Dr. Gruhler can do the treatment at Angel Oak Animal Hospital. The first step is a positive heartworm test and microfilaria check. The dog then gets a series of three adulticide injections in his back muscles (2 months after starting heartworm prevention). These injections are given on day 60, 90, 91. It is very important that your pet stay on restricted activity until day 270, when he is retested for heartworms. As the heartworms die they can break off and cause blockages in the heart, lungs, and vessels; this is more of a problem if the dog is not kept quiet. It is important to watch for adverse reactions to the injections. Your pet may also be put on and antibiotic, steroid, or pain medications.
The cost of heartworm prevention each month is far less expensive and easier than having to treat your pet for the disease. At Angel Oak Animal Hospital we have several options and can discuss them with you to find the best option for you and your pet. If your pet hasn’t been on prevention or you have missed some now is the time to have your pet tested for this deadly disease.
Some information taken from the heartworm society website: https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/infographics