This article is inspired by Teddy whom was successfully treated for heartworm. Teddy’s owner founded Wags 4 Hope (http://wags4hope.org) to raise awareness about heartworm disease and treat shelter animals with heartworm disease. The special thing about Teddy’s owner is that she is only fifteen years old and selling her artwork to raise funds to treat shelter animals for heartworm disease. If you are interested supporting her cause or purchasing her artwork please visit: http://wags4hope.org
Heartworm disease is a serious disease of dogs and cats that can result in heart failure, severe lung disease and death. The disease is caused by infestation of the arteries that lead from the heart by the parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis and it’s symbiotic bacteria. D.immitis is a disease primarily of carnivores such as dogs, ferrets, foxes, coyotes and cats and is transmitted by mosquitos. Once the parasite is in the host’s bloodstream it colonizes the arteries that travel from the heart to the lung causing inflammation and thickening of the pulmonary blood vessels. If the disease is severe enough, the pulmonary blood vessels will become occluded impeding the passage of blood from the heart to the lungs.
Fortunately heartworm disease is easily prevented! Most dog owners will recognize heartworm medications as a monthly pill or ointment that also prevents internal parasites and fleas. Yet that monthly treatment not only protects your dog but other dogs in your community and region from heartworm. Because dogs act as reservoirs for heartworm parasites, mosquitos can easily transmit the offspring or microfilariae of resident heartworms to other dogs. Prior to 2011, 56,781 dogs were diagnosed as having Heartworm in the United States now that number is 6,188 in 2013. This indicates that monthly preventive treatments for heart worm DOES decrease the overall incidence of heartworm disease in the US!!
There are many misconceptions regarding how heartworm preventives work. Some owners think if their dog lives in state such as Oregon or Nevada that have a low prevalence of heartworm then they do not need to give a monthly preventive. True, some states such as those along the Atlantic and Gulf coats, Mississippi and the Great Lakes have a much higher prevalence of heart worm than other states- however heart worm is currently present in all 50 states. In addition, many rescue organizations in states with a high rate of heartworm infection such as Louisiana ship their dogs to other states without testing for heartworm disease. If a mosquito bites the infected dog then other dogs in the area can easily become infected. Another misconception is that heartworm preventives should only be given during mosquito season. This is erroneous as environmental changes and urban sprawl are contributing to the formation of microenvironments that support mosquito breeding which effectively lengthens the length of the heartworm transmission season.
There is no reason or excuse to skip on heartworm prevention. There are many different inexpensive options for heartworm preventives with a variety of products to choose from. Options include a monthly chewable pill that is highly, a monthly topical medication that can be applied directly to the skin and an injectable that is administered by a veterinarian every six months. Prior to starting heartworm preventive treatments, dogs should be tested for heartworm by their veterinarian and re-tested every six months for twelve months to ensure a sub-clinical infection is not present. Puppies should be started on heartworm as soon as possible. Dogs are tested for heartworm using a simple and quick blood test that is administered by a veterinarian.
Heartworm is a treatable disease depending on the extent of infestation however treatment can be very expensive. Dogs that are heavily infected may require a surgery to physically remove the worms from the heart. Treating mild infections consists of killing all of the adult heartworms and subsequent larval stages in addition to improving the dog’s clinical symptoms. Dogs undergoing treatment are at increased risk of developing life-threatening blood clots because treatments are aimed at removing worms from the pulmonary arteries. Because of the potential for forming life-threatening blood clots, treatment consists of extremely limited activity with NO exercise for 90 days in effort to prevent blood clots from forming.
Therapy consists of administering heartworm preventive in effort to kill microfilariae 60 days prior to treatment. Effective targeting of adult heartworms requires three shots of a potent drug (Melarsomine, trade name is Immiticide) over 30 days. However if a single pregnant adult female is not killed, the dog can become re-infected. Multiple radiographs and heartworms tests are required during the treatment and after to ensure that treatment was effective.
Heartworm prevention is part of good pet care. Not only does the preventive protect your dog it decreases the prevalence of heartworm disease in your community by reducing the number of dogs capable of transmitting the parasite. The disease is easily prevented and monthly preventives are inexpensive. In contrast, heartworm disease is a life-threatening illness that can cause heart failure, kidney failure and lung disease and is expensive to treat. So, don’t skip out on heartworm prevention!
April is National Heartworm Disease Awareness month. Please share this information with other dog owners to raise awareness about heartworm and the importance of heartworm prevention.