Have a Heart…It’s Valentine’s Day!

We all know it’s important to protect our own hearts, but what about your pet’s? Do you give your pet heartworm preventative on a regular basis? If not your pet could be at risk for infestation.

Heartworms are parasites that infect your pet through mosquito bites. They work their way to your pets heart where they live. Adult heartworms can reach a foot in length and can live for up to two years in your pet’s heart. The worms grow and multiply, infesting the chambers on the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs. The first sign of heartworm infestation may not show up for a year after infection, and even then the slight cough that increases with exercise may be dismissed as unimportant. But the cough worsens and eventually, your pet may actually faint from exertion; he tires easily, is weak and listless, loses weight and condition, and may cough up blood. Breathing becomes more and more difficult as the disease progresses.

Before starting a heartworm preventative, you should have your pet tested first. Starting a heartworm preventative after your pet has been infected can be deadly. Your veterinarian will draw some blood and might even do an x-ray to determine whether or not your pet has heartworms. If your pet has been infected with heartworms your vet will treat him.

Usually, all but the most advanced cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs. Currently, there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in cats. Cats have proven to be more resistant hosts to heartworm than dogs, and often appear to be able to rid themselves of infection spontaneously.

Adult heartworms in dogs are killed using a drug called an adulticide that is injected into the muscle through a series of treatments. Treatment may be administered on an outpatient basis, but hospitalization is usually recommended. When the dog is sent home, exercise should be limited to leash walking for the duration of the recovery period, which can last from one to two months. This decreases the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead worms.

Re-infection during treatment is prevented by giving a heartworm preventive. There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats, including daily and monthly tablets and chewables and monthly topicals. All of these methods are extremely effective, and when given properly on a regular schedule, heartworm infection can be prevented.

Protecting your pet’s heart is easy. So don’t forget to hug your pet today and give him his Heartgard, Interceptor or whatever heartworm preventative you use!