Heartworm Prevention: Is it really necessary?

By Dr. Cheryl Adams of Bay Road Animal Hospital

YES! Heartworms are found in all areas of the United States now, with the highest prevalence along the Gulf Coast, including Florida. Heartworms are spread by infected mosquitoes to dogs and cats. Heartworm disease signs are very different in dogs vs. cats; but both species need preventative medication every 30 days to keep heartworms from developing into adults, where they reside in the heart chambers causing mechanical heart value damage. There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding heartworm disease, its treatment, and its prevention.

Myth #1: My dog doesn’t need preventative because he stays indoors and isn’t exposed.
FALSE. It just takes one infected mosquito to sneak into the house and bite your pet for the infection to start. Heartworm disease is a silent until the very advanced stages when permanent damage has occurred. We can’t see the worms in our pet’s bloodstream or heart like we can see fleas and ticks on their skin; just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Myth #2: My dog really doesn’t need preventative because heartworms are easily treated with today’s medications.
FALSE. Even though today’s adulticide heartworm treatment is much safer than those from 20-30 years ago, there are serious potential side effects. Some dogs have actually died while being treated. Extreme caution needs to be used when treating a dog to rid him from adult heartworms. And for cats, there is no adult heartworm treatment available now; so once a cat gets a heartworm infection, the only option is to try to medically manage the signs and symptoms.

Myth #3: Why spend money now on preventative when the treatment doesn’t cost THAT much?
FALSE. In fact, an average cost of treatment is approximately $1,000 per case, and if there are complications, the cost can be significantly more. Recently one veterinary medical company did a survey and found that most people thought the heartworm treatment was $250 or less. Remember that the monthly preventative costs just a fraction of the adult treatment and is extremely safe.

In summary, when used correctly, heartworm preventatives are safe and effective and of little cost when compared to the cost of adult heartworm treatment.

For futher information go to www.heartwormsociety.org

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