What are heartworms? They are parasitic worms that live in the heart and pulmonary arteries. And yes, it sounds as bad as it is. Heartworm disease is serious and can be deadly, yet it’s completely preventable.
The culprit is that worldwide pest—the mosquito. Infected mosquitoes can transmit the disease to your pet, and it takes just one bite.
When the mosquito bites, it releases larvae into the tissue. They begin their journey and migrate into the blood vessels. They travel through the bloodstream, damaging arteries and organs, with the ultimate mission of making the heart their home. The larvae begin to develop into adult worms over the next 6-7 months, stressing the heart by restricting the pulmonary artery, which transports blood to the lungs. Symptoms include coughing, fatigue or intolerance to exercise, weight loss and listlessness. Although dogs are the most common host, cats can also be infected. Unfortunately, cats show little to no symptoms; an infection may result in sudden death.
So, mosquitoes aren’t around all year in Maryland.
Fluffy, your 4-pound Chihuahua, never goes outside.
So why use heartworm preventative all year, if at all? Well, there’s no 100-percent guarantee that your pet will never be bitten by a mosquito. And in the state of Maryland, there are four types of mosquitoes known to carry heartworm.
There are effective treatments for heartworm disease; unfortunately they are very expensive, time consuming, and extremely taxing on your pet’s body. Heartworm positive dogs are injected with imiticide, a derivative of arsenic. Can you imagine being injected with a series of arsenic? No thank you. Plus, the costs and time invested into a heartworm treatment is roughly equivalent to 10 years’ worth of a monthly heartworm preventative.
A monthly preventative kills heartworms in their early life stages. It’s important to note that the early life stages show no signs or symptoms, leaving the disease undetected. That’s why it’s not enough to give your pet her monthly heartworm preventative only during the warmer months. With unseasonably warm weather, your pet may have been exposed during the previous mosquito season. Which means all winter long the worms have been developing and migrating to the heart, silently. A heartworm pill could be fatal if given to a heartworm positive pooch.
The best cure is prevention all year round and an annual blood test. It’s safer, less costly, and healthier for your beloved companion. Start spring off on the right paw and get your pet tested and back on the pill!
by Adriene Buisch
Special to the Baltimore Guide