April means Springtime: baby animals learning how to forage, birds chirping in the trees, the days growing noticeably longer and warmer, and of course…
Springtime means bugs. But more specially, it means mosquitoes – those nasty, blood-sucking spawns of Dracula that do nothing but cause itching and discomfort. They’re awful and always happy to spoil a party – but thanks to bug repellents such as sprays, wipes, shakes, powders, nets, and candles, humans have been able to limit their exposure to these little devils, but what about our pets? We all know that mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, Zika virus, malaria, and Dengue fever, and that these diseases can be contracted by humans, but did you also know that mosquitoes carry something dangerous for your critter too?
April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, and Lincolnshire Animal Hospital joins with our fellow clinics, rescues, and animal welfare organizations worldwide to shed a little light on this potentially fatal, but often preventable disease. Heartworm disease, or dirofilariasis, is a serious disease caused by a blood-borne parasite known as dirofilaria immitis, a roundworm commonly called “heartworm”. Found in the heart and adjacent large blood vessels of infected animals, heartworms are spread through mosquito bites. These parasitic roundworms wreck havoc on a pet’s physiology and quality of life causing severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and even death in both dogs and cats. It is a dangerous, and deadly disease that can often take several years before an animal will show symptoms of the infection, with the treatment often costing owners between $1,000 -$3,000 – and involving multiple visits to your veterinarian for bloodwork, x-rays, injections, and hospitalization. If your pet is already on insurance, it can help to offset some of the costs, but it won’t cover everything.
Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to heartworm, it’s treatment, and it’s prevention.
Prevention: It’s the best way to keep your pets healthy. At Lincolnshire Animal Hospital, we recommend administering a monthly heartworm pill or chewable to help prevent heartworms from growing up and finding their way into your pet’s system. Pet owners can expect to pay between $100 – $200 for a year’s supply of heartworm disease prevention .
Symptoms of Heartworm: Cough, fatigue, decreased appetite, and weight loss are the main symptoms displayed by both dogs and cats.
Diagnostic and Annual Tests: Test your pets every year at your annual vet visit. If a heartworm positive dog is not tested before starting a preventive regimen, the dog will remain infected and the disease will progress. Preventive medicines do not kill heartworms and can trigger dangerous reactions and possible death. We require a yearly blood test to confirm that your pet is heartworm free before prescribing, administering, or selling any heartworm disease prevention medication. The earliest heartworms can be detected is 5 months after a dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
Treatment: While the best treatment is prevention, animals can be exposed to the disease for a variety of reasons and need to be put on special therapies immediately. Heartworm treatment is expensive and it can cost several thousand dollars (whereas preventative monthly treatments can range from $5 to $20). It also isn’t easy for the sick animal – check with your veterinarian about the medications necessary to treat heartworm and know the side effects or complications that can come along with it. The American Heartworm Society is very clear that alternative therapies claiming to be “natural” or “herbal” will not be effective or safe in the treatment of heartworm disease.
Cats: Cats are resistant and atypical hosts for heartworms, but they can be infected. The symptoms are like those in dogs, however most cats do not have adult heartworms – they have a shorter life cycle for the parasite. Unfortunately, cats run the risk of misdiagnosis because it is rare; however heartworms can still cause organ damage and respiratory disease.
Heartworm disease is a scary diagnosis, but luckily the advancements of modern medicine have allowed us an avenue to fight it from. If you are concerned that your pet may have a heartworm infection – don’t panic. With the help of your skilled veterinarian, heartworm disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence. And remember… the best way to help prevent heartworm is a good monthly preventative and a yearly blood test. Trust us… you’re pet will thank you.