Heartworms are found in all parts of the United States but the rate of heartworm infection is highest in states on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast as well as in areas that are adjacent to the Mississippi River. Texas, with year round warm weather and Gulf Coast location, provides the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes which carry the parasite. As such, heartworms are considered endemic in the state but they are also one of the most easily preventable conditions that pose a life and death risk for your dog.
Prevention from heartworm disease for your dog and cat varies based on the type of medication you use. Monthly tablets, chewable soft medications or topical monthly applications are all good options. These medications prevent the heartworm from developing in your dog’s body and migrating to the heart. Prevention from this parasite is really the key as owners can virtually eliminate this risk to their pets with relatively inexpensive routine monthly treatment.
If heartworms do mature in the dog they move through the body from the blood vessels to the right side of the heart. When fully mature a heartworm can be up to 14 inches in length and there can easily be hundreds of them clogging the chambers in the heart. The entire process from the time of the infected mosquito bite to mature heartworms takes about six months but the adult worms can live in the dog for up to 7 years. Many dogs with heartworm die very slow deaths from combinations of health conditions including congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver dysfunction and shutdown as well as blood clots on the lungs.
Treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is a slow and potentially dangerous process. Medication that slowly kills the adult worms is administered and the dog is required to stay inactive and calm during the process. The dead worms will pass through the circulatory system and can pose risk for blockages of blood supply through the lungs and the body. Typically it will take several months for complete treatment until a negative test result can be obtained. During this time your dog will also be on preventative treatment to avoid another infection. At this time, there is no treatment for cats who contract heartworm disease so prevention is vital.
The best way to treat heartworm is to make sure your dog is safe from the parasite. We are happy to talk to you about your treatment options to ensure that you and your pet don’t have to worry about this life threatening and completely preventable condition.