Graphic Image Discretion: Click the following black square to see an actual image of heartworms emerging from a heart.
Heartworms and Heartworm Disease 101
Heartworms are parasites that are primarily infectious to dogs, but also can infect cats and other small mammals. Heartworms are NOT spread by direct contact. This means your pet does not have to be around any other animal to become infected. Heartworms are spread pet-to-pet via mosquitos. A mosquito can bite an infected dog, take a blood meal, and at the same time collect heartworm larvae. While the parasite does not harm the mosquito in any way, the mosquito will serve as an intermediate host and transportation for the heartworm larvae. Within the mosquito, the larvae mature to the next stage of development when larval heartworms can be passed to other pets when the mosquito feeds again.
Note: The temperature must be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit around the clock in order for the heartworm larvae to mature within the mosquito and become infectious to other pets. For this reason, the risk of contracting heartworms is only during the warmer months (usually from about June until October) here in the Treasure Valley.
As the mosquito bites its host, it injects tiny portions of blood from its previous meal(s), which can contain heartworm larvae. Within the next 6 months, the parasites continue their journey to full maturity. Once in the bloodstream of the newly infected pet, the larvae travel until they reach the heart and the vessels around the heart and lungs. Here, they mature from larvae to adult heartworms. Adult heartworms can reach 12-14 inches long. If that’s not scary enough, heartworms can number into the hundreds, all residing within the infected animal’s heart.
Because adult heartworms are so large and because their populations are so great, the animal’s heart cannot pump efficiently. If left untreated, the heart will begin to fail. As the disease progresses, owners often see symptoms such as a wet, gagging cough, exercise intolerance, and fainting spells as the heart decompensates and cannot efficiently pump oxygen to the rest of the body. Unfortunately, in the early stages of heartworm disease, there are no symptoms as all. Because of this, testing for heartworms is extremely important.
Treatment of Heartworms and Heartworm Disease
If diagnosed early enough, there is treatment for dogs with heartworms, but it’s much more than a simple pill, paste, or powder deworming agent. Treatment of heartworms involves injections of an arsenic-based poison directly into the dog’s muscle over a few months of treatment. This process, as you can imagine, is extremely harsh on the pet’s system. From the initial injection through the completion of treatment, pets must be strictly kenneled and monitored because as the poison kills the heartworms, their corpses can break apart or become dislodged with the pet’s physical activity. If the dead heartworms dislodge, they can move to other areas, potentially causing very serious clots that can even lead to sudden death.
Aside from the risks of treating for heartworms, cost is often a major issue. Even for very small pets, treatment can easily exceed $1,000. For larger pets, owners may be faced with bills ranging from $1,500 - $2,000+!
Preventing Heartworms and Heartworm Disease
While treatment is so hazardous and expensive, prevention of heartworms is easy and affordable. We recommend prevention for all pets, at least during the season here in the Treasure Valley.
Before starting the preventative, it is very important to test to ensure your pet is negative for heartworms. The test for heartworms requires only a single drop of blood and takes just 5 minutes to run. At Pet Care Clinic-Kuna and our satellite Nampa clinic (Greenhurst Pet Health), we offer this test for only $15.00 for current patients.
Assuming the pet’s heartworm test is negative, most owners will purchase a 6-month supply of a once-monthly, chewable, flavored tablet. We try to make our heartworm preventative as affordable as possible so that it is accessible to every one of our clients.
Another advantage to heartworm preventatives is that they are also a great intestinal dewormer, deworms roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. If your pet is taken to parks, dog parks, boarding facilities, pet stores, or even down the street for a walk, they could potentially become infested with these types of intestinal parasites. Because of this we at Pet Care Clinic-Kuna and Greenhurst Pet Health use heartworm protection all year-around to keep our own pets protected. By giving it to your pet once per month, you will keep them protected against heartworms and help to keep them free of intestinal parasites.
To keep your pet protected, give us a call at (208) 922-1500 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.