Do I really need to have my dog on Heartworm Prevention?
Heartworm disease now exists in every state in the United States. Some areas have more risk than others, but this disease is here to stay. Here in California, we have so many microclimates that one cannot say one area is safer than the other. We all travel with our dogs, even just from one park to another beach. So out pets are often exposed to the mosquitoes that carry this dreaded parasite.
Clients often ask me, “why we need to keep our pets on this medication?” “How does it work?” “Why year round?” And, “Why do we need to test our pets every year, even if we are on the prevention?”
The American Heartworm Society answers all these questions and more. This link is a great site not only for heartworm in dogs but also in our feline population: http://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/faqs.html#q19
How big is my pets risk for Heartworm?
Many factors must be considered even if heartworm does not seem to be a problem in your local area. You may travel with your pet to an area where heartworms are more common and not even know it. Heartworm disease is spreading to new regions of the country each year. Stray and neglected dogs and certain wildlife such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes can be carriers of heartworms. Mosquitoes blown great distances by the wind and the relocation of infected pets to previously uninfected areas all contribute to the spread of heartworm disease. This happened following Hurricane Katrina when 250,000 pets, many of them infected with heartworms, were “adopted” and shipped throughout the country! The safest thing to do, and the best insurance against infection, is to administer a year-round heartworm preventive as directed by your veterinarian.
How often does my pet need to be tested for heartworm?
All dogs should be tested for heartworms every 12 months. This usually takes place during a pet’s annual visit for routine preventive care and is your insurance policy against what could turn out to be a serious illness.
Nothing is perfect. People miss doses of medication or fail to give it the same day each and every month. Pets vomit frequently and at times “lose” their dose of prevention. At times they spit it out. Heartworm preventatives are “nearly” perfect, but nothing is perfect and the danger of not testing is in not knowing.
If you administer heartworm prevention to your pet as scheduled, the chance of your pet developing an infection is extremely low. Your veterinarian’s job, however, is to ensure your pet’s good health by detecting problems before they progress into serious issues. Heartworm disease is a serious issue and when present, should be detected and treated as soon as possible. Testing annually is important.
If you do not have your dog on a heartworm prevention you are just playing games with their health! You also may unknowingly be spreading heartworm wherever you go, by having a positive dog and having mosquitoes become infected from your pet.
The lifecycle of heartworm is complicated, but this disease is here to stay and the more pet owners that protect their pets the more we can keep the disease at bay, at least in our domestic pets.