Monday, April 9, 2018

Heartworm Disease

Most dog owners are aware of the dangers associated with heartworm disease, what they may not know is that it is becoming more widespread and more prevalent in New England than it ever was before. At our Massachusetts veterinary practice the only cases of heartworm positive dogs were animals that came from down South. The past couple of years has shown a growing number of heartworm positive dogs that have never left New England. What used to be a southern endemic has spread up North.

Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitos, they bite an infected animal and pick up baby heartworms called microfilaria. Then the infected mosquito will bite another animal where the microfilaria enters the blood stream and mature into fully grown heartworms. These worms live in the heart, lungs and surrounding vessels and can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage and even death. Treatment is also very expensive and can be risky.

Luckily, testing is easy and readily available and heartworm preventative is very safe and easy to give! We recommend pets stay on heartworm preventative all year (most protect against intestinal parasites as well; win-win!) Our practice uses Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel), it prevents heartworm disease and treats adult hookworm, roundworm, whipworm and tapeworms. We have found this particular preventative is generally well accepted by our canine patients and see very few side effects. Of course, there are several preventatives on the market so the pet owner can do research and shop around if need be.

In order to begin a preventive an animal would  have to show negative on a heartworm test. Giving a preventative to a positive dog could cause anaphylaxis and may result in death. In the early stages of the disease it’s possible for a dog to show absolutely no signs or symptoms. The American Heartworm Association recommends annual testing, the sooner we can detect heartworm disease the better the prognosis for your pet! We only need a small blood sample and run the test in house, most of the time we get results within 10 minutes!

Heartworms can affect our feline pets as well, although they are not a traditional host. Please read this excerpt from the American Heartworm Association in regards to heartworm disease in cats: “Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.”

*Information gathered from and

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