What is Heartworm Disease?
Every spring brings warm weather and mosquitoes to northern Michigan. They are a nuisance to you, but can be a deadly enemy to your pet. In a single bite, mosquitoes can transmit a dangerous parasite called heartworm to your dog or cat. Heartworms are blood parasites that reside in your dog’s heart and pulmonary arteries (in the lungs). Heartworm disease in cats has a greater impact on the cat’s lungs/respiratory system and can be deadly in cats that become infected. Infection occurs when a mosquito picks up a microscopic heartworm larvae by biting an infected animal (another dog, coyote, fox as examples) and then bites your dog/cat. When a mosquito takes its blood meal it deposits the heartworm larva into your dog/cat. The heartworm larvae then migrate through your pet’s muscle and into the blood stream where it travels to the heart/lungs and matures.
Heartworms can grow to up to 14 inches in length and resemble strands of angel hair pasta. As the heartworms reach maturity and begin to reproduce they can cause serious disease including heart failure, difficulty breathing and even death. Coughing, labored breathing, exercise intolerance, and lethargy are some of the presenting signs of heartworm disease (which can present as long as 2 years after infection). Year-round preventative medications are your dog/cat’s best defense against heartworm disease.
Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states and in Canada. The highest incidence of disease occurs in regions with a warm and wet season that supports a high concentration of mosquitoes. In Michigan our typical season is late March through November depending on how warm our spring and autumn seasons are. You can help reduce the likelihood of infected mosquitoes biting your dog/cat’s by eliminating mosquito breeding sites in and around your home. Be sure to tip over cans, buckets, swimming pool covers, and avoid stagnant water reservoirs. Reducing the mosquito population near your home will decrease your dog/cat’s chances of contracting heartworms.
A Heartworm Prevention Plan
Treating a heartworm infection can be risky and is very costly (THERE IS NO APPROVED TREATMENT FOR CATS). Taking preventative steps is a far better alternative to treating this preventable disease. The heartworm prevention medications are safe, effective and available in once a month dosing. Many preventatives can be started in dog/cats as early as 6 weeks of age. We can determine if your dog(s) is/are heartworm free by running a simple blood test on those dogs over 6 months of age (it is difficult to confirm a heartworm infection in the cat, therefore, we recommend starting and maintaining them on monthly preventative). In addition to heartworm, many preventative products protect against other parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms with each monthly treatment. Many of the these parasites can harbor zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans. For this reason we recommend year round preventative for your dog/cat.
Please call us for a consultation to determine the best preventative plan for you and your pet(s).