Heartworms are transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms enter into that mosquito's system. When this mosquito takes its next blood meal, the heartworms are transmitted to this animal. Within six months the young heartworms mature into adults. During the first three months, the larvae migrate through the animal’s body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs. During the later three months, the immature worms continue to develop and grow to adults, with females growing to lengths of up to 14 inches. The worms damage the blood vessels, and reduce the heart’s pumping ability, resulting in severe lung and heart disease. Adult heartworms can survive for 5 to 7 years in dogs and several months to years in cats.
Heartworm is a progressive, life-threatening disease. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the chances that your pet will recover and have less complications. Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet is at risk of exposure and should be tested. This includes pets that only go outside occasionally or are indoor-only since mosquitoes can also get into your home.
Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable. The preventives do not kill adult heartworms, and will not eliminate heartworm infection. Therefore, a blood test for existing heartworm infection is recommended before beginning a prevention to assess the pet’s current heartworm status. The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year. There have been reports of pets developing heartworm infection despite year-round treatment with a preventive, so having your pet tested regularly is the best way to keep them protected. Heartworm prevention also protects against intestinal parasites that your pet could pick up from the soil or other dog's stool in your own yard, during walks or at dog parks. Remember to give your pet the preventive in order for it to work! It is much better to prevent heartworm infection than to treat it. Although treatment is available, there is substantial risk involved during heartworm treatment. Prevention of heartworm disease is very safe and more cost effective compared to the treatment of the disease.
Another benefit to annual heartworm testing is that our heartworm test is combined with tick disease screening. We are able to test for Ehrlichia, Lyme, and Anaplasma in addition to heartworm with a small blood test. Ticks are capable of spreading serious infectious diseases to the pets and the people on which they feed. If you take your pets to tick-prone areas such as camping, sporting, or hiking trips, you should examine them for ticks immediately upon returning home and remove them from your pets. Identifying tick diseases, sometimes even before they are symptomatic, allows us the best opportunity for treatment.
Feel free to talk to any staff members here at Newark Veterinary Hospital about getting your pet started on heartworm, flea and tick prevention today!