Sarah Shedenhelm, DVM, discusses the importance of regular prevention and testing for this deadly disease.
“Heartworms are parasites that live in the hearts of dogs and (rarely) cats. There’s much to be said about this complex disease, but what I really want to stress today is the importance of using prevention all year round and regularly testing for heartworm disease.
Why use prevention year round?
Heartworms are transmitted by being bitten by mosquitoes. In our area, we see mosquitoes all year round, making it especially important to keep your dog protected. Especially with the recent mild fall and winter, mosquitoes have been a problem.
If I give my dog heartworm prevention every month, why do I need the test?
So you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, giving your dog his heartworm preventive every month, on time, regularly. Wonderful! But the unfortunate fact is, using heartworm prevention is still not a 100% guarantee that your dog is safe from these parasites. Heartworm resistance has been a problem in the Delta region for several years, and now we are seeing it right here in Mountain Home. We need to test for heartworms at least once a year to make sure they aren’t sneaking in on us. Because there are no symptoms for some time after infection, you can’t just look at your dog and know that he has heartworms. The only way to tell if your dog has them is to do a blood test. The test we use at All Creatures is simple, easy to read, and we get results within 10 minutes. Another good thing about our test is that it also screens for 3 tick-borne diseases, so you get more bang for your buck. Our clients really like the broader results from our combo test. Like so many other diseases, the sooner we catch this one, the more successful treatment is.
So what if my dog does have heartworms?
As I said earlier, in the early stages of the disease, there are no noticeable signs. As the disease progresses, the most recognizable sign is coughing. We have a 3 stage grading system for the progress of the disease, and by the time your dog is showing clinical signs, he will be at stage 2. If your dog is diagnosed with heartworms, there is treatment available! The treatment isn’t without risk, but is far less risky than not treating at all. I have seen this disease make dogs very, very sick and die. You can imagine: The heart pumps 70-100 beats per minute, over and over again, all day long, and there’s a clump of worms the size of an acorn thumping around in there every single beat. That’s a miserable way to live.
This is a deadly disease. If your dog gets heartworms and you choose not to treat, he could live for several years, but he will eventually die from heart failure caused by the parasites.
There’s no immunity to this disease, so even after treating for heartworms, if you don’t continue prevention, your dog can get them again.
Let’s talk dollars and cents.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. It’s going to cost you around $12 a month to prevent the disease, opposed to about $1000 for diagnostics, hospitalization, and treatment of the disease. Or you could think of it like this: 7 yrs of prevention is the same cost as one treatment!
We are always happy to educate our clients; if you have any questions about this or any other disease, please let us answer them for you! Together we can come up with the best plan for your pup to keep him safe and healthy.”
Dr. Shedenhelm graduated from Louisiana State University in 2014 . For a full biography, follow the link below.