Heartworm Disease

Have a heart!  Being an informed pet owner keeps your pets safe and healthy.

Spring marks the start of Heartworm season in Maine, so I want to provide some helpful information about this potentially life-threatening disease. Your dog is especially susceptible when those pesky mosquitoes start buzzing. This is because Heartworms are transmitted by the mosquito. Since Mainers tout the mosquito as the State bird, it is important to take Heartworm testing and prevention seriously.

Even though Heartworm disease is easily preventable it is still fairly common in dogs. According to the ASPCA, of the more than 8,000 animals rescued during Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 80 percent were later diagnosed with heartworm. Last year the State of Maine saw over 300 reported Heartworm positive dogs. Unfortunately, when a dog is Heartworm positive the prognosis is quite poor. Even if the dog survives, there is a good chance of permanent heart damage. Treatment is possible; however, it is expensive and risky. Given these statistics it is essential that you test your dog for Heartworm disease and start preventative medication this spring.

It is necessary to test your furry friend for Heartworm before starting medication. Testing allows us to make sure the medicine you gave last year worked. More importantly, testing makes sure it is safe to give your dog the preventative medication. If there is an active Heartworm infection, and you give the medicine your dog can get a very severe allergic type reaction as the worms die and are pushed into the lungs. We test in the spring because it takes Heartworms six months to develop to an adult stage that the test can pick up.

The good news is that testing and preventing heartworm is easy! A typical office visit at PenBay Veterinary Associates for a Heartworm test takes less than 30 minutes. We ask pet owners to bring in a small sample of their dog’s feces so we can test for intestinal parasites. Once you arrive at the office, we’ll weigh your dog and draw a small blood sample. Don’t worry most dogs don’t even flinch! While the veterinarian conducts a brief medical exam of your pet, a technician is busy running the Heartworm test. Results are ready in 8 minutes and you’ll know right away if your dog it Heartworm positive or not. The test we use also tests for tick borne diseases including Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichosis. After you leave, we test the fecal sample for parasites, and call you with the results. It is important to screen for parasites because several are transmissible to people and can cause serious diseases, especially in children. Another benefit of Heartworm medication is that it also kills a number of the common intestinal parasites.

Now that we have confirmed that your dog is heartworm negative it is time to start preventative medication. This is the easy part. Your dog will think the tasty chewable medicine is a special treat. At PenBay Vets we recommend you give your dog heartworm medicine once a month, ideally year round, but at a minimum from April through November. A great trick to remember when it is time to give your dog the medicine is to put a reminder in your daily planner for the first of each month.

There are many heartworm medications available; however, the veterinary approved preventatives have a number of advantages. They have been rigorously tested and proven to be safe and effective. Plus, if you buy the medicine from the veterinarian the manufacturer will support the product. If your dog contracts heartworm while on the medicine, the manufacturer will pay for treatment. Make sure to ask your vet for heartworm medication when your dog is tested.

If you are like me, you have a cat at home to keep your dog company. Although it is less likely, cats can become infected with heartworm. In southern states where heartworm incidence is worse, many cats are on preventative medication. I recommend that all outdoor cats be protected against heartworm disease. Ask your veterinarian about monthly products that guard against fleas and heartworms.

So next time you find yourself swatting the Maine state bird, remember that a bite to your pet can mean more than an itchy bump. Monthly Heartworm preventative can go a long way towards ensuring a healthy life for your best friend.

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