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?