I feel very fortunate to be in an area where heartworm is not a huge problem. I say huge because we still see it, though not to the extent of our friends in other parts of the country and the world where it is highly endemic.
If you have a dog and you don’t know about heartworms, you need to take the time to learn about them. In short, they are teensy little creatures that infect your dog via a mosquito bite. Those microscopic larvae develop into full-sized worms that live in the pulmonary artery and the heart itself. Untreated, they can lead to heart failure and death.
The treatment is also not without risk. Extreme care must be taken to keep activity low to prevent life threatening emboli or inflammation. The treatment takes place over at least a month with very limited activity on the part of the dog. I’ve gone through this with several clients now, and hoo boy, it is not fun.
In parts of the country where it is endemic, people are much more compliant about giving regular heartworm prevention to their pets. In our area, it’s a bit more of a discussion convincing people to go for heartworm prevention. What’s really changed for me over the years, and for most practitioners I know, is that the incidence really does seem to be increasing.
People travel, and so do their pets. Heartworm is being introduced into populations by an increasingly mobile population and being seen in pets who have never left their home regions where it was not generally considered a problem. The Heartworm Society has a map of heartworm incidence from 2007 that covers a good portion of the United States.
The disease is so nasty. The cure is not much better. Prevention is so much easier, and that is why even in people who think their pets are low risk, I highly recommend they go on heartworm prevention medications. There are monthly pills and monthly pills that are combined with flea medication and twice-yearly injections and spot ons, options that should work for just about everyone. Your vet is the resource for this information, as all heartworm preventives are FDA regulated and prescription-only.
Even with all of this, with perfect compliance- and in truth, the majority of people miss doses or are late sometimes- breaks can happen and a pet can develop heartworm disease. For this reason we vet types recommend pets get tested yearly for heartworm disease, even when they are on medications. The test takes just a few minutes and a drop of blood, and is the key to catching the presence of adult heartworms early when the pet has the best likelihood of withstanding the treatment process.
Which reminds me, I believe my dogs are due for their treatment this week. How about you? Do you use heartworm prevention?
Vicki in Michigan says
My dogs get monthly just-heartworm pills. Fleas aren’t as much of an issue in Michigan as they are in other places; I don’t poison for them unless we have them.
I am on the board of a charity which raises and disburses money to help with medical expenses for corgis who don’t have permanent homes.
In some parts of the country (Hello, Texas!), nearly every dog that comes in to rescue has heartworm.
As you say, the treatment is NOT benign. We have helped several dogs with their treatment who have ended up in emergency due to one reaction or another, and at least one has died. 🙁
As I noted, when talking about fleas, I am not a person who likes to add things to my dogs if I can help it — BUT — heartworm is too nasty. Please, people, put your dogs on a heartworm preventive!
Lisa W says
Every month, religiously. We are flea, tick, and skeeter heaven here in NC.
Most definitely (both dog and cat)! We use a heartworm/flea combo monthly pill for Clyde. Funny you should bring this up. I was just thinking this weekend about how my first dog took a DAILY heartworm pill years ago. I’m going to ask my vet about the twice-yearly injections next time we’re in the office. I saw the flyer about that when I was picking up Revolution for my cat the other day.
Yesh. Living in the south, you have to be diligent about it. Cookie is on Heartgard and Toby is on Advantage Multi. Never miss a dose, always first of the month. It seems like more often than not the dogs that are traveling on transports out of the south are all HW+
So ProHeart is back? I knew it used to be around but then they took it off the market for a few years.
I hadn’t heard proheart is back, but then I’ve spent the majority of the last 3 years doing exotics and ER medicine. Proheart has shown some promise at treating heartworm disease in ferrets (yes, ferrets can get heartworms too!) so I’d be happy to have it available on the market again. I recommend heartworm preventative for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. All my kiddos get interceptor monthly.
Abby's mom says
My cat gets her Revolution every month. If it weren’t for her flea allergies, I would probably still use Heartguard like I did with my last cat, since my cats are always indoor only. Perhaps you could do a post on the dangers of heartworm in cats?
Yes, they get their monthly dose of Interceptor and their yearly heartworm tests! Even though I don’t hear much about cases around here, I get paranoid that just that one mosquito will infest one of the pups, and I rather be safe than sorry!
I treat my animals monthly, the dogs with a combo heartworm/flea pill, even though I live in Michigan. Vicki, you must live in a more urban area than me, because there are fleas everywhere here in the country! My dogs are tested every year, and I give meds year-round (without flea preventative in the winter). Cats are tested every other year. I saw waaaaaay too many dogs and cats with heartworm disease when I worked at a vet clinic.
Jennifer C. says
Like another poster mentioned, I’d love to see a post on heartsick in cats. I am in NorCal and the vet doesn’t seem so concerned butI can’t help but wonder what your thoughts are if it is like preventative care in dogs: once a month oral.
I live in San Diego, and our vet never pushed heartworm meds as it isn’t that prevalent here, as you mentioned. I was very surprised, as coming from the east coast where just about all dogs are on heartworm meds. I used interceptor for Gilbert’s first year, but then stopped as it was something that was never suggested at vet check-ups. Your post is a good reminder that it is a nasty thing and should get back on the prevention. Thanks!
I wish I could convince more clients here to get their pets on it. I am disturbed by the apparent increase in cases that we’re seeing in San Diego County. The county vets also report seeing more cases in coyote necropsies, so it’s not our imaginations. I currently have the dog on Trifexis (love that stuff) and the cat on Revolution.
Debby and Kirby the Dorkie says
Kirby’s gets a heartgard pill every month without fail. What scares me is the recent news that it is not effective? What do you think?
You’re right — there is increasing concern over the effectiveness of Heartgard because it looks as though some resistant strains of heartworm are emerging. However, so far most of those reports have been from the area of the Mississippi River Valley. Thus, at this point whether you should be worried about this depends on where you live.
My newest dog, Pickle, who I got from rescue a year ago, came up hw positive in March. The vet thinks she was positive when she went in to rescue and the hw test was a “false” negative – there must be at least five female adult worms for a positive test. Treatment was expensive – almost $1200 – and I had to keep her quiet and in a crate for two months. It was hard to do because she is such a bouncy pup, but we both got through it and she is on interceptor. The preventative is much cheaper and easier than treating the disease! There was just a dog in the lab rescue that died from treatment two months ago 🙁