While April is supposed to bring spring showers the weather reports indicate that this year we are getting snow! Nevertheless, we know that spring is just around the corner and with it will come the warmer temperatures. For pets out there, spring means exposure to some diseases that we just don’t see in the winter time; one of the most dangerous is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is easy to contract and difficult to treat (especially in cats as there is no approved treatment) which is why we in the veterinary community strongly encourage all pet owners to use preventive medication for their pets from April to October. Of course, if you travel to warmer climates with your pets during the winter months, then you will require preventive medication while away. There is a myth that only outdoor pets are at risk of contracting heartworm disease but this is simply not true. Heartworm disease is actually spread by infected mosquitoes. I don’t know about you but, every summer I struggle with keeping those pesky little insects out of my home! If they can get in and bite your pet, then your pet is at risk.
After an infected mosquito bites a pet, the pet will not test positive for approximately 6 months and will not exhibit symptoms until late in the course of the disease. For this reason, the American Heartworm Society recommends annual heartworm testing. If you didn’t give your pet monthly preventive doses last year there is a chance that they are heartworm positive right now. Once mature, a heartworm can live up to 7 years in a dog and 5 years in a cat, and while positive that infected pet substantially increases the risk for other pets in their neighbourhood. For this reason, prevention with your own pets helps to reduce the risk of infection in other pets too!
Heartworm positive patients usually need to be strictly confined for up to 3 months. They pose a danger to all other pets around them until treatment is complete and while ill they face symptoms ranging from coughing and panting to decreased activity level and sudden death. This is because the worm can live and grow up to a foot in length inside the body where it may even reproduce. Some infected animals have been found to carry hundreds of these worms that can cause serious damage to the heart, lungs and other organs in the body, which is why heartworm disease is often fatal to its victims.
I cannot imagine one of my pets contracting heartworm disease due to a seemingly harmless bite by an infected mosquito and so for me, prevention is key. There are several types of medications that you can use during the warmer months to prevent your pet from becoming infected. Many of these preventive medications have other benefits such as prevention of Lyme disease (spread by ticks) and intestinal parasites. Heartworm prevention is given monthly for optimal efficacy so don’t forget to mark it on your calendars and stock up for the season. We would be glad to book you in for your annual heartworm test and are also quite happy to answer any questions you may have. All I ask is that you please work with us to keep your pets safe during the spring and summer seasons – testing and prevention will allow you to focus on enjoying the warm weather by giving you the peace-of-mind that your pets are protected!