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What's the Real Danger with Heartworms?

Here’s a test for you: without looking in your medicine cabinet, try and guess how much heartworm prevention you have for your pet? Here’s part two: when was the last time you gave a parasite prevention product to your furry friend?

Hopefully, your answer to part 2 is that you have either given a pill or applied a topical heartworm product within the last 30 days. You might even be a client who has opted for the six-month injectable heartworm prevention. The point here is that all of our pets (cats AND dogs) should be on some sort of parasite prevention all year round.

You know that the veterinary staff is going to ask you how much parasite prevention you need on the next visit with your little furry companion, but why are they so insistent on making sure pets are covered every 30 days, all year long?

The answer to that question takes us to the life cycle of the heartworm. Most of us are already aware that mosquitoes serve as the vector to spread this parasite from one dog to another. After the mosquito bites a dog, tiny, microscopic larvae enter the wound and start working their way through the subcutaneous space under the skin and into the connective tissue of the dog’s body. Their destination is to get to a blood vessel so that they can make their way to the heart and pulmonary arteries. Along this journey, the little larvae will molt twice and start the process of growing into foot long worms! At about 50 days after infection, the larvae have reached a point where they are not as susceptible to our parasite prevention products…in other words, that pill or topical product isn’t going to kill the growing worms like it would before 30 days.

So, astute readers will now note that the recommendation of giving something every 30 days doesn’t match with the susceptibility that starts at around day 50 of the life cycle. Why can’t you just give the prevention once every other month? Won’t that work? Turns out, no…that will NOT work. Here’s the explanation: When you give that monthly pill or apply the topical product, the medication is actually de-worming your pet of those pesky heartworm larvae picked up in the previous month. So, on April 1st, you are killing the worms picked up in March. Make sense?

Also, remember that all heartworm products (other than the 6-month injectable product – ProHeart) do not remain in the body. They are usually used up and excreted within 24 to 48 hours of dosing. Now, imagine that you didn’t give that pill on April 1st…those little larvae could have 55-60 days to continue their maturation and this could be enough time to make them less susceptible to the medication when you do give it again on May 1st. While this situation may be rare, it does have potential for allowing adult heartworms to develop and start the process of heartworm disease. Missing just one dose can have consequences!

Heartworm disease is often silent, that is, we don’t know the dog has heartworms until he or she tests positive. Many dogs do not have symptoms or, if they do, it appears as a mild cough or even a slow progression of exercise intolerance. By the time these signs appear, there may be changes to the right side of your dog’s heart and these changes are irreversible. Noticing heartworms in cats is even more of a challenge. Most cats will present with asthma-like symptoms or bronchitis; some will even experience vomiting. The VERY scary thing about heartworms in cats is that SUDDEN DEATH is often the first sign that there was anything wrong.

If your pet does develop heartworm disease, treatment options are often costly and can be risky in some situations. Furthermore, there is NO approved treatment of adult heartworms for our feline friends.

So, bottom line, giving prevention to our dogs and cats can prevent a significantly serious disease AND save you money in the long run. Typical treatment for a medium sized dog, by the time all the testing is done and medications are given, will run cost $1200-$1500. That hard cost doesn’t include the fact that you need to spend extra time insuring that your pet doesn’t over-exert himself. In contrast, parasite prevention covering heartworms, intestinal parasites, and even fleas in some cases, typically costs about $10-$15 per month. You can get 7-10 years-worth of parasite prevention for what it would cost you to treat your pet for heartworms. The bigger bonus? Your pet won’t suffer the irreversible damage to his heart when you give this inexpensive, safe, and extremely effective product.

Don’t mess around and take chances…keep your pets on this important medication every 30 days. If you find it hard to remember to give the prevention, there are a wide variety of reminder apps and services to send you a gentle nudge. OR, if you would rather not worry about dosing monthly, consider Pro-Heart, a six-month injectable heartworm prevention medication available at your veterinarian.

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