Vet Blog

How You Can Protect Your Pet from Heartworm Disease

March 18, 2019

As a caring and responsible pet owner, you of course want to keep your pet safe from all and every disease that could make him sick and have long-term consequences for his health and wellbeing.

There are many different varieties of illnesses that can affect our animals, from infectious diseases and health problems that develop as a result of aging to parasites. Heartworms are arguably one of the most dangerous parasites of all.

To help you ensure that your pet lives a long, healthy, and happy life, here is what you need to know about heartworm disease and how to protect your pet.

About Heartworms

Worms are a well-known type of parasite, and many owners have heard of the term 'worming your pet'. However, there are several different types of worm that can affect our animals, and heartworm is one species of parasitic worm that can have serious consequences for the health of your pet.

Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that is acting as an intermittent host for the infection. The mosquito passes some heartworm larvae, called microfilaria, into the blood of each of their victims, continuing the life cycle of the worm. Once in your pet's bloodstream, the microfilaria migrates to the heart, lungs, and adjacent blood vessels. This takes around six months, during which time they also mature into adults. Fully grown, they can mate and reproduce. It is important to note that dogs, which are biologically the most natural host of heartworms, can have hundreds of worms living inside them. Conversely, cats, which aren't a natural host but can still be infected, normally only have a maximum of three worms at any one time. This is because most immature heartworms don't survive until adulthood.

The Effects of a Heartworm Infection

Once fully grown, each heartworm can reach 5mm wide and as long as 16 inches. This means that they take up considerable space inside the organs and blood vessels that they call home. As they multiply, the effects on these organs and blood flow around the body are increased. Oxygenated blood is unable to reach all areas of the body as easily, and the heart and lungs are placed under increasing strain. This leads to organ damage that, left untreated, will almost certainly cause your pet to succumb to heartworm disease.

All Dogs and Cats Need Protection Against Heartworms

It is estimated that around 30 varieties of mosquitoes carry heartworm infections. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if a mosquito is a carrier before it bites your pet, and as heartworms have been reported in all states in the U.S. regardless of their climate, veterinarians recommend that all cats and dogs are suitably protected against the parasite all year round irrespective of where they live.

Heartworm Disease Prevention

Fortunately, with the right medication and proper administration, it is possible to ensure that your pet never suffers from heartworms. There are numerous different preventatives available, including:

  • Chewable tablets that can be hidden in his food
  • Spot-on treatments that are placed between his shoulder blades
  • Injections

Most oral and topical preventatives are effective for around 30 days before a further dose is required. However, the injectable heartworm preventative has been shown to be effective for as long as six months. Since heartworm preventatives can only be prescribed by a veterinarian, your professional will be happy to help you decide which will offer your pet the best protection. Your vet will also speak to you about the importance of sticking to a strict schedule of administering your chosen preventative. Late and missed preventatives are one of the main reasons why pets contract heartworms.

Want more advice and support on protecting your pet from heartworm disease? Our friendly, experienced veterinary staff at Oak View Animal Hospital would be happy to help. Please contact our animal hospital in Pelham, AL, and call us today for more information or to schedule an appointment at (205) 988-3559.