Heartworm Disease Is A Real Risk
In the last few months, we’ve seen an increase in pets without heartworm protection. This can be for many reasons such as owners that have moved from southern states and didn’t realize the year-round risk here in Queensland. Owners can lapse in giving monthly preventatives. Many cat owners don’t realize there are preventatives available for their feline friends, too.
Another more troubling reason is that owners don’t believe that their pet will get heartworm, either because their pets have never been on preventative before and never had problems, or that veterinarians are trying to make money off of a scare campaign and the disease isn’t real. The fact is, a lot of these owners end up getting burned when their pet ends up infected, and it does happen!
This is a real gamble, and if you come out losing the bet, it is your pet that pays the price. Heartworm is also a ‘pet public health’ issue—the more pets lacking protection, the larger the reserviour pool for future infections, raising the risk further. Here’s a quick review of heartworm lifecycles:
- Adult heartworm live inside feline and canine hearts. They reproduce to create microfilaria (or immature worms) which circulate in the animal’s bloodstream.
- These microfilaria are sucked up in mosquito blood meals. The microfilaria mature inside the mosquito.
- When the mosquito bites the next animal, it can pass on this now-infective heartworm.
So what is the real risk? Well, the Twin Cities certainly has no shortage of dogs and cats. And we also have no shortage of blood-sucking mosquitoes, either!! The risk is comparable to sending your unvaccinated child to kindergarten—they are bound to get sick. And the more unvaccinated children around, the more likely disease outbreaks occur.
Classic signs of heartworm in dogs include coughing and exercise intolerance. Cats often have chronic vomiting or just suddenly die. Even in minor infections where these signs aren’t obvious, heartworms cause inflammation that damages the heart and lungs. And that is why we worry.
New heartworm products are being introduced all the time. It’s very hard to remember to give the daily products, and even one day of missed dosing leaves your pet unprotected. There are monthly tablets and spot-on treatments that are now available. There is also an annual injection for dogs that can be given at the same visit as vaccination.
And best of all, these products are much more reasonable in price than when preventatives were first introduced years ago. It does NOT have to cost a lot of money to protect your pet. It costs A LOT more to treat your animal once it is infected, especially if the disease has progressed. Please discuss your lifestyle, financial concerns, and de-worming needs of your pet with your veterinarian to help choose the product that is appropriate for you.