Ok, I will admit that this title is pretty corny, but think about it! Just because we need to stay sequestered during the COVID-19 outbreak does not mean that parasites, especially ones that can fly, will be any less of a problem!
April is Heartworm Awareness Month and each year veterinarians, along with parasite prevention companies and even rescues and shelters, will remind you about this potentially fatal disease. So, here's your Heartworm Quick Facts!
1) Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. While taking their blood meal from your pet, mosquitoes can transmit tiny infective heartworm larvae. These minuscule parasites will gain entry into your pet's bloodstream by following the opening left by the mosquito's proboscis (how the mosquito gets her blood).
2) It takes quite awhile for the heartworm larvae to grow up and start causing problems. Their whole goal is to make it to your pet's heart so that they can start reproducing. However, it will take about 6 -7 months after infection until we can actually test for the parasite. Sadly, damage to the vessels of the heart and lungs can occur as early as about 120 days after infection! Unchecked, heartworm disease can lead to fluid in the lungs and on the abdomen, bleeding from the nose, coughing, heart issues, and even death.
3) While they travel through the body, the heartworms continue to grow. Eventually reaching a length of about 1 foot, adult heartworm truly look like strands of spaghetti! Now, just imagine 10, 20, or 50 adult heartworms all crammed inside your Beagle's heart! It's not a pretty sight!
4) After mating and reproducing in the vessels of the heart and lungs occurs, microscopic microfilaria emerge and start cruising through the blood stream. It's these little guys that are sucked up by a mosquito as part of the heartworm's life cycle. It's important to note that these microfilaria MUST use a mosquito to move on in their life cycle...without the mosquito, they will die in the dog in about 2-3 years. If you are interested, check out this video of microfilaria found in a dog:
5) Your pet will need a blood test to determine whether or not he or she has heartworms. Unlike intestinal parasites (the ones we find in your pet's poop), heartworms can only be found on a blood test. This test should be done annually for all animals over 1 year of age.
6) The good news is that you can keep your pets (both dogs and cats) safe from this potentially deadly parasite with safe and effective parasiticide products. Whether you choose oral medications, topical medications, or even a 6 or 12 month injectable medication for dogs, you have options to protect your furry friend! Ask your veterinarian about which product will work best for your pet and your budget.
In 2019, more than 166,000 dogs tested positive in the United States for canine heartworm disease. While this doesn't seem like a lot, there were about 13 million tests done. The dog population is estimated to be around 90 million, so we can reasonably expect about 1 million dogs to be positive (based on percentages of tested dogs).
Don't let your beloved furry family member be a part of this statistic . . . use your oral or topical parasite prevention every 30 days, all year round or ask your veterinarian about the 6 or 12 month injection. You'll find that it's a lot easier and less expensive to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat!
Need more info? Try the American Heartworm Society website or this great blog I found recently from Leslie the Pet Nurse!