Why Heartworm Protection is Important for Pet Health
There are many different parasites that can affect our pets, but veterinary experts are in agreement that heartworms are one of the most dangerous. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the parasite lives in the blood vessels of the heart and lungs of your pet, rather than the digestive system. And secondly, heartworm infections are hard to spot since the symptoms develop slowly and are very mild.
Here’s what you need to know about heartworms and why ensuring that your pet is properly protected is so important.
Heartworms and their hosts
Before we go any further, it is important to be aware that the following information and advice primarily relate to heartworms in dogs. Dogs are the natural host for heartworms, and while the parasite has been known to affect cats and even ferrets, they do so in no way the same extent and there is no current treatment for these creatures. Heartworm treatment in cats extends to managing their symptoms to try and help the feline outlive the worms (heartworms have a lifespan of around 7 years).
The transmission of heartworms
Unlike most parasitic worms, heartworms are transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, who transfers microfilariae (immature heartworms) from an infected animal to a new host. Once a new host is bitten, the microfilaria travels through the bloodstream until they reach the blood vessels of the heart and lungs where they will live, growing and maturing into adults capable of reproduction. Once fully grown, they can reach over a foot in length and as their numbers grow, they begin to compromise the flow of blood through the host’s body, causing damage to their organs. Left untreated, heartworms can cause irreversible damage to your pet’s health, and, in most instances, their numbers will grow so large that they nearly always become fatal.
Although there is treatment available for dogs who have contracted heartworms, the actual process is very long and complex. It may be necessary to stabilize your pet’s health before treatment can begin, and the treatment itself must be undertaken gradually. This is because destroying too many heartworms at once can cause your pet’s body to go into shock.
Debunking the myths of heartworms
There are a few common myths about heartworms that it is important to debunk so that pet owners realize the importance of keeping their animals adequately protected.
The first is that heartworm prevention is only needed in the summer. Sure, mosquitos are more prevalent during the warmer months. However, their hardiness means that they do exist all year round. In addition to this, heartworm preventatives work by treating heartworms that may have infected your pet in the last month or even longer. The American Heartworm Society recommends that pets are given year-round protection from heartworms.
Secondly, there is a belief that there are some states in which pets don’t need to be protected against heartworms. Again, this is false. There have been reports of heartworms infecting dogs in every state in the U.S.
The key takeaway from this is that your pet should be given year-round protection against heartworms, wherever you live.
Heartworm preventatives: your choices
Heartworm preventatives are available in a variety of different forms, from chewable tablets and spot-on medications to injectables. Oral tablets and spot-on topical solutions are administered monthly and must be given at home, on time every 30 days to ensure adequate protection. Many of these do not only protect against heartworms but will also keep your pet safe from other parasites including digestive worms, ticks, and fleas. This enables you to give your pet greater protection using fewer medications.
Injectables are only available on prescription and must be administered by your veterinarian. These solutions can protect your pet for either 6 or 12 months at a time.
Your vet will be able to advise you which preventative would be best for your pet and explain how and when your chosen solution should be given.
For more information on the importance of heartworm protection, please don’t hesitate to speak to our expert team.