I write a weekly Pet Column for my local newspaper, The Meridian Star. This week's topic: Heartworm Disease
By: Ashley Owen Hill, guest columnist
We’re all looking forward to the scorching heat of the Mississippi summer; with temperatures so hot…we’ll wish for the mercy of death. But along with that fun in the sun, we receive another precious gift: mosquitos. If you think you hate mosquitos now, just wait until you find out what those nasty little boogers are doing to your pet’s precious heart.
Heartworms are caused by a parasite, which is transmitted when a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito. The bite of just one infected mosquito will give your dog heartworm disease, and trust me, these infected bugs are everywhere. Following a bite, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. At that point, the heartworms lodge into the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels of your dog, and begin reproducing. Heartworm disease is extremely painful and tragic for dogs, leading to congestive heart failure, multiple organ failure, and death.
Heartworm disease is a widespread and fatal condition. However, heartworms are far more common in areas with a high mosquito population, due to the greater concentration of infected bugs. As we all know, mosquitos freaking love Mississippi, so every pup in the dirty south is at risk. This means that ALL dogs in Mississippi need to be on heartworm preventative. No exceptions, mister.
Monthly heartworm preventative medications are crucial in protecting your pet from heartworms. That’s right, heartworm disease is preventable! Great options include Iverheart Max and Heartgard Plus. In order to fully protect your pet, these medications must be given year-round, at the same time each month. If you forget for even one month, your pet is at risk. Important note: deworming medications used for removal of internal parasites DO NOT protect your pet against heartworms.
Heartworm preventative can only be obtained by vet prescription. First, your vet will need to run a heartworm antigen test on your dog. Following a negative test result, preventative meds will be prescribed. Pets should be re-tested annually to ensure that heartworms haven’t been contracted. Even dogs on heartworm preventative should be re-tested each year to check for medication efficacy and early detection of any problems.
If you think that heartworm testing and prevention is unnecessary or too expensive, you should see the costs associated with treatment and progression of the disease…
Warning signs of heartworm disease include coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and fainting. If your pet is exhibiting any symptoms, visit your vet immediately for a heartworm test.
If the heartworm test is positive, your dog will need to start treatment immediately. The longer the heartworms inhabit your dog’s heart, the higher the risk of irreversible damage. While heartworm treatment is expensive, it’s essential to your pet’s health and lifespan. Depending on the progression of the disease, your vet will determine the best treatment plan. Following treatment, heartworm preventative must be given monthly to maintain your pet’s negative heartworm status, re-testing each year.
Would you want worms living in your heart? I’m thinking no. So please, don’t make your dog suffer from this easily preventable and treatable disease.
Ashley Owen Hill is the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat, 8659 Hillview Dr, Meridian. Email her at Ashley@luckydogretreatmeridian.com. Follow her blog at www.luckydogrescueblog.blogspot.com or www.facebook.com/luckydogrescueblog.