The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has released an update today suggesting that owners consider keeping their pets on heartworm preventatives all year round.
Heartworm is a parasitic disease found all over North America. It is not directly contagious between pets but is spread by a mosquito biting an infected pet and then taking a blood meal from another pet. Many areas that previously did not have heartworm now do, partly due to the transport of infected dogs into new regions.
It is important to realize that heartworm is a disease that is much easier to prevent than to treat. Dogs and cats can be given oral medications or topical therapies once a month that act retroactively to halt infection. Dogs who are infected have just one approved method of treatment involving an arsenical drug. There is no approved treatment for cats. Luckily cats do seem to be more resistant to heartworm infection and illness than dogs.
Diagnosis of heartworm disease is routinely done by a simple blood sample. Most clinics recommend periodic testing, even for pets on year round prevention programs. No medication is 100 percent effective and early diagnosis means easier treatment for your pet. In addition, owners sometimes forget to give the preventative each month. Infected dogs often develop respiratory problems and eventual heart failure leading to death.
Most veterinarians agree that dogs do need to be on a preventive program though many owners and some veterinarians balk at treating cats. the incidence in cats is lower than in dogs but diagnosis and treatment is more complicated. Your veterinarian can give you an idea of the prevalence in your community. If your pet travels with you, you need to look at heartworm incidence in those areas before your trip. The Companion Animal Parasite Council has a wealth of information on heartworm, including maps with national prevalence both for dogs and cats.