Where are Heartworms found?
Heartworms have been found in all 50 states, although certain areas have a higher risk of heartworm than others. Some very high-risk areas include large regions, such as near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and along river tributaries. Most states have “hot spots” where the heartworm infection rate is very high compared with other areas in the same state. Factors affecting the level of risk of heartworm infection include the climate (temperature and humidity), the species of mosquitoes in the area, presence of mosquito breeding areas and presence of animal “reservoirs” (such as infected dogs, foxes or coyotes).
Heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease. The earlier it is detected, the better chance the pet will recover. There are few, if any early signs of disease when a dog or cat is infected with heartworms, so detecting their presence with a heartworm test administered by a veterinarian is important. The test requires just a small blood sample from your pet, and it works by detecting the presence of heartworm proteins. Some veterinarians process heartworm tests right in their hospitals while others sent the samples to a diagnostic laboratory. In either case, results are obtained quickly. If you pet tests positive, further tests may be ordered.
Can I skip giving my dog his preventative during colder months, when there aren’t any mosquitoes?
A: The American Heatworm Society recommends year-round heartworm prevention. One reason is, there’s already a serious problem with people forgetting to give their dogs the heartworm preventatives. It’s a universal problem. Now if you use it year-round, and you miss a month, your dog will probably still be protected. But if you miss more than one or two months your dog could become infected. The other reason not to stop is that many of the preventatives today also include an intestinal parasite control for roundworms, whipworms or tapeworms. You want your dog to be protected against those at all times.
How can I prevent my dogs from getting heartworms?
A: For less than the cost of going to Starbucks for a weekly coffee, you can prevent heartworm disease in your dog. There are monthly pills, monthly topical treatments that you put on the skin, and there’s also a six-month injectable product. The damage that’s done to that dog and the cost of the treatment is way more than the cost to prevent heartworm disease. A year’s supply of heartworm preventative will cost about $50 to $100 depending on a dog’s weight.
What are the symptoms of heartworm infestations in dogs?
A: Initially, there are no symptoms. But as more and more worms crowd the heart and lungs, most dogs will develop a cough. As it progresses, they won’t be able to exercise as much as before; they will become winded easier. With severe heartworm disease, we can hear abnormal lung sounds, dogs can pass out from the loss of blood to the brain, and they can retain fluids. Eventually, most dogs will die if the worms are not treated.
Can people get heartworms from their dogs?
A: It can only be passed on by mosquitoes. It’s a specific parasite that only affects dogs, cats, ferrets and other mammals. In rare cases, heartworms have infected people, but it does not complete its life cycle. The heartworm will migrate to the lung and cause a round lesion that looks like a tumor. But these are very rare cases.
If one of my dogs has heartworms, can it give it to my other dogs?
A: No. Again the only way heartworms are transmitted is though the bite of an infected mosquito.
Heartworms in Cats:
Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.