Our Pets: Heartworm prevention even in winter
By Angie Wood November 7, 2011 3:22PM
Now available for adoption, Finn, a spaniel mix, and Foster, a cattle dog mix, are currently responding well to heartworm treatment at the Naperville Area Humane Society. | Submitted.
Updated: December 10, 2011 9:46AM
Considering that heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, Northern Illinois pet owners might question the necessity of preventative heartworm medication during the colder months. While it seems intuitive that dogs would be unable to contract heartworm disease when the ground is frozen and there is nary a mosquito to be seen, the American Heartworm Society recommends year-round preventatives.
One reason to establish a monthly dosing schedule is that pet owners are likely to forget to resume medication after taking a break. Skipping doses when mosquitoes are most active can endanger the life of your pet.
“Another reason to continue the heartworm preventatives is that keeping the protective blood level up also safeguards pets against common parasites that can be spread to humans,” says Dr. Tom Staudacher of Naperville Animal Hospital.
“A common misconception is that we don’t have heartworm disease in this climate, but we do see multiple cases each year,” Dr. Staudacher says.
This is why your pet’s annual veterinary exam includes a blood test to detect the presence of Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms. Only transmitted by mosquitoes, the larvae can reside in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of their hosts. The blood test can identify heartworms only after they’ve been present for at least six months and have matured into adults. Should your pet’s blood test come back positive, then veterinarians like Dr. Staudacher typically recommend chest X-rays or electrocardiograms (EKG) to determine how widespread the infection is and the number of worms present.
At the onset of the disease, most dogs show no symptoms. As the disease develops, symptoms progress from a cough to intolerance to exercise, to abnormal lung sounds, to the retention of fluid in the abdomen. If untreated, it can be fatal.
Fortunately, most dogs diagnosed with heartworm disease can be treated successfully. While cats don’t contract heartworm disease as often as dogs, they should still receive preventative medication because there isn’t an all-encompassing treatment for feline heartworm disease.
The type and length of treatment depends on how advanced the disease is. Most dogs undergo a two-stage treatment with an adulticide to eradicate adult worms, followed by another injection that destroys the larvae. Dogs are prohibited from exercising during treatment because the remnants of dead worms can cause blockage in the animal’s cardiovascular or pulmonary systems.
At NAHS, all dogs ages six months and older are tested for heartworms. If they test negative, they receive a monthly preventative, such as Heartgard Plus. When dogs test positive for heartworms, they are taken to a local veterinarian, such as Naperville Animal Hospital, for a series of injections. After the second treatment, the dogs undergo additional tests, and may even receive another injection depending on the severity of the disease. This process takes about six months and is often an added responsibility of the person who adopts the infected dog. NAHS covers the cost of the treatment until the dog is free of heartworms.
Each year NAHS provides heartworm treatment for between five and 12 dogs. Now available for adoption, Finn, a spaniel mix, and Foster, a cattle dog mix, are responding well to heartworm treatment.
We at NAHS urge you to regularly provide a year-round dose of heartworm preventative pills — they even come in a tasty chewable version — throughout the life of your pet. Some veterinarians like Naperville Animal Hospital even offer Pet Wellness plans that offer savings on preventative medicines, vaccines and annual tests. An ounce of prevention goes a long way to ensure that your pet has a healthy life and saves you money in the long run.
Naperville Area Humane Society is a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 1979 to develop and implement animal welfare programs and services within Naperville and surrounding communities. NAHS’ goal is to protect animals and to prevent animal suffering.
Angie Wood is executive director of the Naperville Area Humane Society. Contact her at 630-420-8989.