Let’s talk about Heartworms! Here at Mariner’s Mile, we recommend heartworm prevention on a monthly basis. Now, I know some of you are thinking “Oh no, another thing for me to buy” and others of you are thinking “Is that the same thing as roundworms? Because my dog/cat doesnt have those” and still even others of you are thinking “I don’t want to give my dog a pill on a monthly basis that has chemicals and poison in it.”
Well, I’ll start answering hopefully all of your questions by telling you what heartworms are. Heartworms are potentially foot-long worms that live in the bloodstream, including the heart and lungs. They can cause heart failure, lung disease and secondary issues with many other organs of the body including the liver and kidneys. Heartworm disease affects dogs primarily, but also can affect cats. If feeds and lives off of many of our native wildlife species including wolves, coyotes, foxes and even sea lions. In Southern California, our pets live in close proximity with these wildlife species.
Adult female heartworms living in these wildlife species produce baby microscopic worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. When mosquitos bite and feed on the coyote, the microfilaria matures into an “infective stage” and is then transmitted through a bite to our pets. Once in our pet’s bloodstream, they mature into adults in about 6 months. Once mature, they can live for 5-7 YEARS in a dog and 2-3 YEARS in a cat. Our pups are the natural host for heartworms, and they reproduce once inside and more and more accumulate! Our cats are atypical hosts (not natural), and the worms cannot mature; but they can cause severe respiratory signs.
Hopefully I haven’t lost you yet with all that medical jargon, but the most important thing I want you to gain from this is that heartworm disease is very bad. They clog and stop our pet’s hearts, and make it so they cannot breath, not something that is easily fixed. Cats can have sudden breathing issues, coughing, vomiting or even fainting/seizures. Dogs start coughing, are easily fatigued, and lose weight; if the heartworm continues to reproduce, surgical intervention is required or sudden death most likely occurs.
In Southern California, we have about a 12-15% prevalence of heartworm. I have treated a dog, thankfully successfully, so I KNOW it’s here. The disease is most prevalent in the Southern US, but with increased travel, dogs being transported all over the US, and weather changes, the prevalence here has only increased over the last 10 years; in fact it has DOUBLED.
Back to my original premise, we here at Mariner’s Mile Pet Clinic recommend monthly heartworm prevention. That is an oral pill or topical solution on a monthly basis; this basically means you are giving a lose dose of a medicine that will kill the underlying worms before they develop further. With prevalence going up, we are requiring yearly testing; we have a test that requires just 3 drops of blood and 8 minutes. It also tests for anaplasma, ehrlichia and lyme disease (all blood borne pathogens) in our dogs. We are performing FREE tests here throughout the summer, courtesy our laboratory companies.
Now, even if your pet is NOT showing any of the symptoms I talked about, and we test and it comes back positive, what do we do? Well, we have a strict protocol in place for treatment. The first and most difficult part of treatment is STRICT EXERCISE RESTRICTION. You must take that happy playful pup of yours and cage rest him because as we treat, there is risk of throwing a blood clot and sudden death due to the heartworms dying. Next part of the treatment requires doses of an injectable medication, which is a painful low level of a toxin or POISON that we give that actually kills the worms. It’s dangerous and a slow treatment. And remember those of you who didn’t want to use prevention because you believe it’s giving toxins to your pet? Well, the treatment is SO MUCH WORSE; it’s much easier to prevent.
I’ll wrap this up with one last thought; if you aren’t on heartworm prevention, or just want to talk about it, see your vet or ask us over here at Mariner’s.
Let’s keep those amazing fur-babies of yours happy and healthy!