Preventing Heartworm Disease
What is Heartworm Disease?
The parasites responsible for Heartworm Diseases are worms about the size of spaghetti which live within the heart and major blood vessels. The cardiovascular damage and circulatory interference caused by these parasites may be potentially fatal. Treatment may be difficult and the heart damage may be irreversible. Prevention of Heartworm infection is certainly preferable to treatment once the pet is infected and demonstrating symptoms of this disease.
Learn More About Heartworm Disease from the Heartworm Society
How do dogs get Heartworm Disease?
The Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes carrying the immature, or larval, stage worms. These larvae are injected into the dog when bitten by an infected mosquito. Over the next few months, the larvae migrate to the heart and mature into the adult Heartworms, which interfere with normal blood circulation. All dogs living in an area that has mosquitoes are at risk, not just those living outdoors.
Why haven’t we had to worry about this disease before?
Heartworm has been a serious problem for years in East and Southeast portions of the U.S. However, the prevalence of this deadly disease has increased steadily since it was first identified, and it now affects pets in all 50 states. Portions of California have developed localized ‘pockets’ of Heartworm Disease over the last 5 years due to apparent changes in the mosquito population. Pets in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties have recently been diagnosed with Heartworm infections.
How do we prevent Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm Disease can be prevented by administering a medication which will destroy the immature stages of the parasite before damage can occur. Dogs over 6 months of age are first tested, via a blood test, to assure that they are not already infected with the Heartworm parasite. If the blood test indicates a negative result (i.e., the pet is not already infected), then a monthly administration of a Heartworm preventative medication should be initiated to prevent this serious disease. This medication is continued on a monthly basis as long as the pet livers in a “Heartworm area” such as Southern California, and should be continued for at least 2 or 3 months after moving from such an area to one free of Heartworm Disease.
Puppies younger than 4-6 months of age may begin a Heartworm preventative medication without prior testing but will require testing at a later date after reaching 7 months of age.
How often should a dog be tested for Heartworm Disease?
Dogs over 6 to 7 months of age are tested for the presence of Heartworms prior to beginning medication. Our doctors recommend having your dog tested yearly for Heartworm Disease.
How long should a dog remain on Heartworm prevention?
Dogs should receive Heartworm medication on a continuous monthly basis while living in an area with Heartworm Disease.