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Heartworm Basics

April 1 2024

In April, we celebrate Heartworm Awareness Month. Well, celebrating probably isn’t the right term. Heartworms are definitely not something we care to honor. However, they are something every dog owner should be aware of. These nasty worms are very dangerous, and can even be deadly. Continue reading as a local Bowmanville, ON veterinarian provides some basic heartworm facts.

Do Dogs Require Heartworm Prevention Every Month?

Fido must be kept up to date on his heartworm preventative treatment. That said, his dosage schedule may vary depending on the product used. Some preventative products can last six or even twelve months.

People in cold regions, such as here in Canada, may choose to stop taking the drug during the winter months. Although the owner has the final say, it’s still a good idea to keep up with it, especially since average temperatures are rising. Ask your veterinarian for particular guidance.

What Time of Year Are Dogs Most Likely To Contract Heartworm?

In most regions, summer is the most dangerous season, since that is when mosquitoes are most active.  In the south, the risk is year-round.

The risk is lesser in the north during the winter, but it still exists. Some mosquitos can survive in the cold for longer periods of time than expected. (Rising average temperatures may also raise the risk of infection in the winter.)

Where Are Heartworms Most Common?

Heartworms can spread anywhere there are mosquitos. Cases have been reported across North America. Unfortunately, this means Fido might become infected anywhere in the United States or Canada. The American states with the greatest number of heartworm cases are in hotter, wetter climates, but the risk is pretty much universal at this point.

What Dog Breeds Are Most Susceptible To Heartworms?

Breed really isn’t a factor here. Any dog, at any age, can contract heartworms.

Pups with thin fur may be at a slightly higher risk, since mosquitoes can bite them more easily. However, this does not mean that longhaired dogs are immune; fluffy dogs are still susceptible.

What Are The Statistics On Heartworms?

The numbers are pretty sobering. Here are a few key points:

  • The larvae can survive for a month within the mosquito.
  • Once a dog is infested, it only takes 6 to 7 months for the worms to mature and begin multiplying.
  • More than 70 different mosquitoes can carry heartworms.
  • Female heartworms can grow to be around 10 inches long. Males reach around the age of twelve.
  • They resemble spaghetti. (Yuck.)

How Do Dogs Get Infested With Heartworms?

Fido cannot contract heartworms directly from another pooch. In fact, the heartworm has hired everyone’s favorite insect—the mosquito—for this. Unfortunately, that means Fido can get sick anyplace, including in his own doggy bed.

Basically, the mosquito will pick up heartworm larvae, also known as microfilariae, by biting an infected dog. When the annoying little bloodsucker bites another pup, it injects the heartworms into their bloodstream. From there, they grow and multiply, and the cycle continues.

Can Heartworms be Treated?

There’s good news and bad news here. The good news? There are treatments available. However, these choices might be rather pricey. They’re also pretty harsh on poor Fido. To avoid overstressing your pet’s heart, you may need to severely restrict his activities while he is receiving treatment. This calls for only short walks and no strenuous play. That’s not much fun for the poor pup! 

In more severe circumstances, dogs may need to be kenneled throughout the course of their treatments. A really severe infestation may necessitate surgery. Needless to say, this may be very expensive. Your furry companion will also need to be constantly supervised during this period.

What Are the Signs of Heartworm Infestations?

You may not notice anything until the worms mature, which can take up to six months. A dry, moderate cough is frequently the first thing people spot. You might notice that your furry family member just doesn’t seem very energetic.

Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Persistent Coughing
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Breathing Issues
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Weight Loss
  • Discolored gums
  • Nosebleeds
  • Little/No  interest in play
  • Exercise intolerance

If the infestation continues, more severe symptoms will appear. These could include fainting, staggering, and heart attacks. Sudden death is another unfortunate possibility.

Can Cats Get Infested With Heartworms?

Yes. Our feline friends rarely get infested since their bodies aren’t as receptive to worms as dogs’ are. However, do not assume Fluffy is safe. Even one worm can cause fatal organ damage in a cat. What’s more troubling is that cats may die suddenly and without any warning signals. Keep up with Fluffy’s preventative care.

Do Any Other Animals Get Heartworms?

Any canid can contract heartworms. This includes not just Man’s Best Friend, but also his cousins, the wolf, coyote, and fox. Cats and ferrets are also susceptible. In fact, they’ve been detected in sea lions!

How Can I Protect My Dog From Heartworms?

The most important thing is to keep up with Fido’s preventive care. Aside from that, you can simply take basic precautions to keep mosquitoes away. You could employ sonic repellers, for example. Making your property suitable for pollinators and bats may be helpful as well. A single bat can consume 600 mosquitos in one night! Standing water tends to generate mosquito nurseries, so empty buckets and plant pots after a shower.

What Happens if I Forget To Give Fido His Preventative Care?

You’ll need to have your canine companion tested again before restarting. This is because the products that keep Fido safe from infestations won’t kill live worms. If your furry bestie is already infested, preventative care will not keep the worms from growing and multiplying. Contact your Bowmanville, ON veterinarian for further information.

How Frequently Should My Dog Be Tested for Heartworm?

Most of our canine companions are fine with annual tests. However, some dogs may require more frequent testing. Keep in mind that some canines will be at greater risk than others. Spending time with other dogs would obviously increase Fido’s risk. However, your pooch doesn’t even need to make physical contact: a neighbor’s dog three homes down could spread the worms to him via mosquito.

Are Heartworms Are Becoming More Common?

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes. As is common with any form of treatment or parasitic prevention, some worms appear to be developing resistance. In addition, it is becoming more popular for dogs to be adopted and transported from the southern states to the north. This has also contributed to the increase in numbers. 

However, there is no reason to panic. Just make sure to stay up with your dog’s preventative care and keep an eye out for symptoms. If you observe anything out of the ordinary, contact your Bowmanville, ON veterinarian.

Schedule An Appointment With Your Bowmanville, ON Animal Hospital

Conclusion: Heartworms are very dangerous worms that take up residence in dogs’ hearts, lungs, and vital organs. Left untreated, infestations are often fatal. Keep your canine buddy safe by staying current on his preventative care and visiting your vet regularly.

Do you need to catch up on your dog’s heartworm medication? Is Fido due for an appointment? Contact us, your local Bowmanville, ON pet clinic, at any time.

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