Sunday, April 5, 2009

HEARTWORM DISEASE

Martin's Point Veterinary Hospital
April is Heartworm Awareness Month!

The good news is that heartworm disease is preventable in your canine and feline companions!

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially deadly disease caused by the parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis.

Dogs are considered the host for heartworms, but over 30 other species of animals may be infected (e.g., cats, foxes, coyotes, etc.). 

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites and takes a blood meal from a heartworm positive animal, the mosquito takes up microfilaria (baby heartworms). These microfilaria then mature over the next 10-14 days inside the mosquito to become the infective larval stage.

When this infected mosquito bites a susceptible host, the infective larvae are taken into the bloodstream and mature. They migrate through your dog’s body for 6 months until they reach your dog’s heart where they mature reaching a size up to twelve inches long! Recently infected pets may show no signs of disease, but as the heart fills with worms, signs of heart disease occur.

The heart and lungs are the primary organs affected; however all other systems are burdened. Heartworms can cause severe damage to your pet’s body and eventually lead to death. The good news for our fuzzy friends is that heartworm disease is preventable. Your veterinarian’s office can perform a simple blood test to screen for heartworms.

Once a negative test result is obtained, your dog can be started on heartworm preventative immediately. There are a variety of options available to dog owners for preventing heartworm infection. There are monthly tablets and chewables, monthly topicals, and a six month injectable.

All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented. There is a once monthly chewable available for cats. 

If your dog were to become infected with heartworms, there is a treatment option available. This treatment is complicated, expensive, and not without risks. Your dog will take weeks to completely recover. Currently there is no treatment available to kill adult heartworms in cats.

It is important that all dogs be protected from heartworm disease, year-round heartworm prevention is recommended for all dogs in North Carolina. Please speak with your veterinarian regarding heartworm prevention in your feline friends.

Mosquito control is important for all of us to consider. Steps can be taken to decrease the number of mosquitoes in your area. Dispose of any containers outdoors that collect and hold water, clean gutters, and change water in birdbaths once weekly.

If you have concerns about low lying regions in your yard you can contact your local public health or mosquito control office. Remember, prevention of heartworms is key.

So please protect your furriest family member and have a great time enjoying the wonderful Outer Banks!

Jessica Grosklos Stumph DVM
Martin’s Point Veterinary Hospital

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