Heartworm Awareness Month

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By now, there are some among you who are probably sick and tired of hearing me talk about heartworms, heartworm disease and heartworm prevention. That’s good! That means I’m doing my job.  You are dismissed from class, and you are welcome to go outside and play and fetch and roll over. We’ll have a belly-rub and some carrot sticks waiting for you when we’re finished here.

For the rest of you, I apologize that my veterinary medical profession and I have not done a very good job of educating pet owners. How so?  Well, very often when we take a blood sample to test a dog for heartworms, I will ask our customers if they know how dogs acquire heartworm disease. Usually about 1 out of 3 owners know the correct answer. The other 2 out of 3 aren’t sure, or they make a courageous, but incorrect guess (fleas, dirt or grass, poop, other dogs). That’s OK. We don’t know what we don’t know, right? At Carolina Value Pet Care, we’re here to provide affordable basic pet care, but we consider it our responsibility to educate you as well. The more you know about your pets and their health, the better decisions you can make to insure their long-term well-being. And that’s what we want for all our pets: a long, happy life with minimal health issues. But clearly my profession and I need to better inform pet owners of this deadly, but preventable menace.

So what is the answer?  How DO dogs and cats and other animals (coyotes, foxes) get Heartworms ?  

Mosquitoes. That’s it.  Only Mosquitoes. OK. Well, then why should we care? Because heartworms can be fatal. They can kill both dogs and cats. And even if they are not fatal, they can cause significant health problems, greatly reducing the quality of life of our pets.

Here’s the good news:  We can successfully treat dogs with heartworm disease and eliminate the heartworms. Unfortunately, we do not have any approved treatments for cats, but we can manage the disease in kitties. Here’s the best news of all:  We can prevent heartworm disease before it happens!  Easily and affordably.

Here in North Carolina, we have the potential of mosquitoes year-round.  We’ll definitely see far more mosquitoes in Spring and Summer and Autumn than in Winter, but once the temperatures hit the mid-50’s, mosquitoes will emerge. We’ve had a (very) wet and mild winter, with temps even hitting the 70’s a few days in January. As a result, we can reasonably expect mosquitoes to be more of a nuisance than usual. And that’s why it’s so crucial in North Carolina and the entire SouthEast US to keep dogs on heartworm prevention year-round.  

Here’s a few facts about Heartworms:  

* There are both male and female heartworms.  So they can continue to reproduce and create more heartworms, even as a dog is continuing to be bit by mosquitoes that can carry heartworm larvae.

* Male heartworms are about 4-6 inches long; female heartworms reach 10-12 inches long!  Yikes!

* Adult heartworms can live 5 to 7 years in dogs; 2 to 3 years in cats

* Recent studies (2009 – study released in 2013) in Jonesboro, Arkansas demonstrated that 7.3% (1 out of 12) of mosquitoes in this area were carrying heartworms if no heartworm positive dogs were in the vicinity.  But in mosquitoes collected near a dog that had heartworms, a whopping 74% of mosquitoes on the premises were carrying heartworms. What does this mean for dog owners: The potential risk of heartworms spreading throughout a neighborhood due to a single infected dog is a huge concern.  

At Carolina Value Pet Care, we carry 9 different heartworm preventions.  We have 6 different once-a-month chewable tablets … 2 topical liquids applied to the skin once-a-month … and 1 injectable version that protects for 6 months.  There is not one heartworm prevention that is better than the others. But if you need assistance deciding which is the best choice for you, please let us know.

To better grasp what these hideous worms look like, Google “images of heartworms in dogs”.  Hopefully this will give a visual perspective that words cannot adequately describe.

For more details about heartworms, the disease, prevention and treatment, please go to the American Heartworm Society website:   www.HeartwormSociety.org.

Now the class is dismissed.  Belly rubs and ear noogies for all !

– Dr Bob Parrish & the Carolina Value Pet Care Team