Heartworms are disgusting. And that’s the least of their appeal. Because we’ve grown to know and love dogs as companion animals, any sort of invader or predator to their systems is a real worry for us humans. Educating ourselves can be a great way to handle those worries.
Heartworm is only transmittable through contact with a carrier—the mosquito—during periods when temperatures are over 57 degrees Fahrenheit. But you’ve probably heard that you can’t just worry in summer—if you don’t take preventative measures, your headache (and your dog’s unhappiness, discomfort, etc.) will be much worse later. (On that note, those that live in very high altitudes where mosquitos can’t live probably don’t need to worry about preventative measures—but talk to your vet anyway.)
So when should you start? First, do a test. You need to be positive your dog doesn’t already have heartworm before you begin preventative measures, as the two can be a fatal mix. Go see a vet for this one, and start at six months of age.
As for the seasonal aspect of heartworm prevention, experts say that if you live in the New England area, beginning in May is your best bet. That’s when temperatures increase enough for mosquitos to begin their buzzing. However, to ease your mind and your dog’s chances of developing full-blown heartworm, do a once a month treatment year round.
It works like this: preventative drugs don’t actually prevent the bug from biting, or even the larvae from being transferred. But they disrupt the growth process so that the microfilaria that normally develop into adult worms don’t ever reach that stage.
Any prevention failures (missed doses) are generally the result of some human error—or some dog vomit. These unforeseen events are the reason your dog should be regularly tested at an interval determined by your veterinarian (usually every year).
If your dog does contract heartworm, there are treatment options, but treatment is less than ideal. (Prevention is ideal.) The heartworm should be staged before beginning treatment because, while stage 1 and 2 have a good prognosis, treatment in stage 4 is contraindicated, meaning likely fatal due to abnormal heart rhythms.
During heartworm treatment (not prevention), your dog should be on cage rest and kept relax for six weeks prior to dosing. This act alone is difficult—you have to be on constant watch so that his or her heart stays calm. Don’t let it get that far. Ask your veterinarian for prevention advice (if you haven’t already) and get to the heart of the problem today.
Has your dog ever had heartworm? Tell us about the treatment process and any advice in a comment!