During the month of April, dog rescues and organizations focus on educating pet parents on the prevention of heartworm disease, a serious parasitic infection spread by the bites of mosquitoes , resulting in parasitic worms wreaking havoc on a pet’s health. Unsuspecting caregivers may not realize that just one seemingly innocent insect bite can lead to heartworm. The heartworm life cycle begins when a mosquito bites an already infected dog and ingests the larvae during blood feeding. Over the next couple weeks this larvae mature to an infectious larvae inside the mosquito, and during the next feeding ,the mosquito bites a healthy dog and deposits larvae that burrow through tissue into the bloodstream, working their way to the dog’s heart and vessels. Maturation to the adult form, which is capable of breeding and producing more larvae, completes the cycle.

Heartworm facts include:

  • Adult heartworms live in the right side of the heart and can grow to more than a foot long. Several hundred may be present in a dog.
  • Heartworms impair blood circulation which results in damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
  • Serious damage may occur before signs are detected by the caregiver. In fact, dogs may not show signs of infection for two or three years, and by then the dog’s heart and pulmonary vessels may already be clogged with hundreds of worms. Advanced signs include difficulty breathing, coughing, loss of weight and listlessness. Left untreated, the disease causes suffering and even death.
  • According to the American Heartworm Society, millions of dogs in the United States get no heartworm preventative, or get it inconsistently .
  • Any dog, whether an indoor puppy to an outside working dog, can get heartworm if bitten by an infected mosquito. All dogs are at risk, even if they spend very little time outdoors. One bite from an infected mosquito can infect your dog with this disease.

If you aren’t giving your dog a heartworm preventative, ask your vet to test your dog. Diagnosis can be a simple blood test performed at your local vet clinic, and it is important to NOT skip this test because some preventatives can cause potentially fatal reactions in already infected dogs. Many veterinarians recommend routine annual testing as a staple of the dog’s healthcare program.

It is much less expensive to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat it, and most conscientious caregivers understand that, but the problem is that for heartworm preventatives to work, they must be given on time, every time. It is estimated that many of the dogs on a heartworm program often miss scheduled doses, and that is a problem, so create reminder notes on your phone, place the medicine in a safe place where you’ll see it regularly, and put reminder stickers on your calendar. To be effective, the preventative must be given ON TIME, EVERY TIME!

Don’t wait to see signs of coughing, fainting, or difficulty in breathing. If you have not had your dog on a regular regime, get your dog to the vet for a blood test to check for heartworm. Hopefully, she will test negative, and you can get her started on a regular preventative program. If she tests positive, early detection can mean the difference between life and death. Treatment of heartworm disease in dogs is usually successful, but prevention is much safer (and cheaper) than treatment. We can’t eliminate all of the pesky mosquitoes, so keep your dog on a safe, heartworm preventative medication. Prevention is always better than treatment!