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Heartworm - Prevention is Key

At this time of year, pet owners across the country will be receiving notices from their veterinarians to make appointments for spring health checks. Depending on where you live in Canada, your veterinarian may even recommend testing your pet for different types of parasites such as heartworm. 

Photo of a dog in the outdoorsHeartworm disease is spread by infected female mosquitoes when they feed. Heartworm larvae are injected into the dog and migrate through the tissues until they wind up in the heart and lungs of the pet as adult worms. It takes about five to six months for this migration to occur. Over time, these worms interfere with normal blood flow and can lead to heart and lung failure. 

While dogs who spend a lot of times outdoors are at a higher risk for mosquito bites and exposure to heartworm, “indoor” pets may also get mosquito bites inside the home. Cats are not natural hosts but can be infected. Treatment for dogs involves medication that kills the worms but cannot reverse the damage to the heart. The therapy itself can lead to serious side effects. The treatment cannot be used in cats, and there is no effective therapy in the feline species.

Fortunately, prevention of heartworm disease is pretty straightforward. Prevention involves a monthly pill, chew, or topical drop-on product during mosquito season. The various drugs can kill the microscopic larvae before they have a chance to mature. Your veterinarian will be able to provide a plan for heartworm prevention if he or she feels your feline family member is at risk. 

When you see your vet to get preventive medication for heartworm, your vet may want to test your dog for it. The preventive medications themselves are very effective, but there can be problems. Some dogs will spit out or vomit the pill or chew before the medication gets a chance to be properly absorbed in the system. Other dogs with gastrointestinal conditions may pass the medications whole. When using the topical products, dogs should not be groomed or taken swimming on the same day after the drop-on has been applied. The most common concern for breaks in protection is simply pets who were not given their medication on schedule or not given the complete course through the summer and autumn. 

Depending on where a pet owner lives in Canada, veterinarians may recommend year-round parasite control. Consult with your veterinary practice for the best and safest product for your pet, your lifestyle, and your geographic region.

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