Heartworms are a serious threat to all dogs and cats. Cases of heartworm have been reported almost everywhere in the United States. The good news for pet owners is that heartworm is preventable. The bad news is that many pet owners choose to skip prevention and risk their pet’s life.
Dogs and cats have heartworm prevention available. There are several different forms of prevention, from pills to injections. The most common type of heartworm prevention is in the form of a pill. Some brands are flavored and chewable. Heartworm prevention works by keeping any heartworm larva from developing in your pet. It is a low dose of a poison, but the prevention is much safer and less expensive than treatment.
Treating heartworms in dogs is expensive and dangerous. An arsenic based poison is given to your dog through several IV infusion sessions. While undergoing treatment, your dog should not be allowed to exercise or engage in any physical activity. The more active your dog is during treatment, the higher the chance of a piece of a dead worm breaking up and blocking a major artery. This can result in death. The cost of treating a dog for heartworm can be in excess of $1,000.
I have a dog who suffered from an advanced case of heartworm. The shelter we adopted her from did not tell us that she was infected. $1,000 later, she is doing okay, but her heart was deformed by the infestation and she will always have limited physical abilities because of it.
Bad news for cat owners—there is no treatment for feline heartworm. If your cat picks up heartworms, it is most likely a death sentence for them.
According to a chart on the Heartworm Society’s webpage, heartworms are most prevalent in the humid south. However, cases of heartworm have been reported in every state except Alaska. This means, even in desert areas, that heartworm prevention is necessary. Anywhere there is standing water, even is desert areas, there are mosquitoes. If there are mosquitoes, there is heartworm.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm is a parasite that resides in the heart and major arteries of mammals, including cats and dogs. It is spread by mosquitoes. The cycle starts when a mosquito bites an infected mammal, the small larva develop in the mosquito until they reach a size that allows them to travel through the mosquitoes salivary glands. When an infected mosquito bites your pet, the heartworm larvae pass from the mosquito to your pet. If left unchecked, the heartworms become a huge mass that blocks the blood flow to the heart, resulting in a heart attack and most likely, death.
Heartworm prevention should be a part of your pet’s regular health routine. The first step is to get your pet tested and then put on a heartworm prevention routine. Prevention is well worth the cost. Leaving it up to chance is playing Russian Roulette with your pet’s life.
Lynda Altman is an animal lover and actively involved in pet rescue. Her 3 dogs are all rescues, including her pure-bred Chinese Shar-Pei and Bedlington Terrier. You can follow Lynda’s pet articles on Examiner by clicking the subscribe button above or @fusgeyer on Twitter.