April is heartworm awareness month – something which is crucially important for pet owners across the country. Here are the Top 5 facts to know about Heartworms as a pet parent.
Heartworms are internal parasites that are transmitted via mosquito bites. When your pet is bitten, immature heartworms enter her body and use her blood to travel to the blood vessels of the heart and lungs. Here is where your pet’s heartworms will call home and they will settle here while they mature into adults, a process which takes around 6 months. At this point they are capable of reproducing their own offspring. An adult heartworm can reach 12 inches long, and in severe infestations, dogs can have upwards of a hundred living within the blood vessels of their heart and lungs.
Although treatment is possible and usually successful, heartworms can cause irreparable damage to your pet’s body as they clog the arteries and blood vessels, preventing proper flow of blood around your pet’s body. This can make it difficult for him to breathe and function properly. Eventually, if treatment isn’t forthcoming, your pet will die from heart or another organ failure.
1. Heartworms are found everywhere
In the past, heartworms were typically thought of to only affect animals living in the southern states of the United States since they are spread through mosquito bites. However, mosquitos can and do travel and this means that they certainly aren’t restricted to any one area. In fact, the American Heartworm Society has found evidence of heartworm infestations throughout the U.S – even in states that were once considered no risk of the condition. There are more than 30 different species of mosquito capable of transmitting heartworms, so our advice is to ensure that your pet is properly protected all year round, irrespective of where you live.
2. Heartworm treatment isn’t without risks and can be expensive
The good news is that heartworms are treatable. However, doing so isn’t without some risk to your pet. The injection that kills the adult worms causes their body to break down. This releases bacterium contained within them into your pet’s body. As a result, many vets in Birmingham, AL will also prescribe antibiotics along with the heartworm treatment to help counteract any potential infection. Killing too many adult worms at once is also dangerous for your pet as it could send him into shock. As such, the treatment is split into two doses.
If your pet’s heartworm infestation is significant, he may also need further treatment in the form of fluids, heart medications, breathing support and more. This can mean a stay in veterinary hospital while he recovers. There may also be damage to his organs that your vet will need to try and treat or at least stabilize to improve your pet’s quality of life.
3. Heartworms are entirely preventable
Although the prospect of your pet contracting heartworms may sound horrifying, it is important to remember that they are entirely preventable. As caring and compassionate owners, we want to protect our pets from unnecessary pain and suffering. Although many owners worry about the costs of preventative medication, monthly heartworm can usually be obtained for less that the price of decent bottle of wine or a couple of coffee shop drinks. This small monthly commitment is much less expensive than the cost of treating heartworms and will ensure that your precious pet remains safe from the effects of this debilitating and deadly parasite.
4. Heartworm preventatives must be given on a strict schedule for them to be effective
Like all preventative medications, those which are used to protect your pet against heartworms must be administered on a strict schedule. This is because they are only effective for a set period of time. Once their effectiveness begins to diminish, your pet may not be adequately protected, and this could leave her vulnerable to heartworm disease. There are lots of different options available, from oral medications and topical treatments to an injection. Your veterinarian will be happy to help you find the preventative treatment that is most suitable for your pet and will advise you with what frequency these must be given. Even being just a few days late will increase the likelihood that your pet will develop heartworms so make sure you note the date that the next dose is due and stick to it.
5. Be vigilant for the symptoms of heartworms
Even the most committed owners can accidentally be late with a dose of heartworm preventative. Although rare, there are also occasions whereby a preventative has been unsuccessful for reasons beyond your veterinarian’s understanding or control. Therefore, it is advisable for all pet owners to be aware of the symptoms of heartworms so that they can get their pets medical help if they suspect he is being affected by the condition.
The symptoms of heartworms that you need to look out for include:
- A soft, dry cough
- Unwillingness to participate in games and exercise
- Respiratory problems such as seeming out of breath or struggling to breathe
- Weight loss
- A rough, poor-looking coat
If your pet has any of these symptoms, we recommend that you speak with your veterinarian in Birmingham, AL as soon as possible.
If you would like more tips on how to protect your pet from heartworms call Avondale Animal Hospital at 205-236-2100 today.