Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring=Mosquitoes=Heartworm Disease

As we get into warmer weather (ok, maybe not quite yet but it's better to not wait until we are in the thick of it), there are a few topics that we like to make sure we discuss with our clients.  

I am going to focus on Heartworm disease today because:

1) There are large pockets of people that do not have their pet on a preventative simply because they don't "see" the need.

2) Heartworm disease is very serious, fatal if untreated, but oh-so-easy to prevent!!!

3) Heartworm prevention comes with a few bonuses too.

4) The risks for the spread in my portion of the country (NE PA) have gone up in recent years and I will tell you why.

Let me start by showing you how dogs get heartworms:

This also shows that cats can be infected but they are not the preferred host. However, they are affected more severely and acutely (which I will discuss in another post).

 Here is another life cycle diagram that may simplify it a bit:
(you can click on these to enlarge and see better)

Essentially a mosquito becomes infected by biting a dog that has circulating microfiliarae (baby heartworms), bite a dog to suck blood and in the process transmits these, they migrate through tissues until they reach the heart, where they grow up! 

Now do we have heartworm here (or wherever YOU may be)?

I have seen HW here in the NE both in NJ and in PA. 

Let me address a few questions that often come up in discussion with owners. 

Number one is: "but Fluffy never goes outside except to go to the bathroom" or maybe "Fluffy never goes out at all."
Ok, I don't know about you but mosquitoes not only don't take long to bite you outside but each year I get  bit in my own home, sometimes while I'm sleeping. Though I do my best, they do get in the house in the hustle and bustle of spring/summer activities.  

Also, while it's true that the Southeast is a "hotbed" of HW (and numerous other parasites), we DO have it here and guess what? A whole lot of dogs have been brought up here by well-meaning rescue groups and individuals from guess where? The Southeast. Katrina dogs come to mind but there are many others. I see dogs from Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas,  etc all the time. These dogs are potentially acting as a reservoir for the disease. AND because a dog could test negative and still be carrying heartworms, you may be lulled into a false sense of a "it's not here" mentality.  

It takes 6 months post infection for a test to come up positive. This test, by the way, can be done in approximately 10 minutes in your vet's office and only requires a few drops of blood.

If your dog is heartworm positive and you do nothing here's what your pet can look forward to:

Nice right? As you can imagine, the heart doesn't work so well with all those worms blocking it up. Yes, eventually they go into right-sided heart failure and die a not so nice death.

It is treatable but that can be costly and why would you wait until that happens? There is potential for heart and lung inflammation and possible permanent damage but you can prevent this with a once a month, year round, medication.

AND here's another incentive - these products act as monthly dewormers too (for things like hookworms, whipworms and roundworms). This is so important in households that have small children too as they are the most likely to get infected with some of the parasites that dogs can carry (I'll discuss a serious one later this week).  You are essentially protecting your dog AND your family.  

They have some cool things under Pet Owner Resources including some videos and more info on Canine and Feline Heartworm disease.

FYI:  I saw a dog last week that was found wandering around the East Stroudsburg, PA area (taken in by a nice family) that was  heartworm (and Lyme) positive. 

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