Dr. Julie Damron

Tips on caring for your pets from the Veterinarians and staff of Sierra Veterinary Clinic in Stockton, California.

Heartworm shouldn't be ignored

Autopsy of heart infected with heartworm

Canines and felines are now more at risk for Heartworm than ever before. The recent change in rainfall patterns has allowed mosquitoes to flourish in our area. On average Sierra Veterinary clinic diagnoses 6-7 cases of canine Heartworm per year. It is only May, and we have already identified this deadly disease in 5 dogs. In the past, many of the pets had traveled outside of California; now most of the patients are just local inhabitants. Please protect your cherished companions with routine preventatives.

Heart-worm is a deadly disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Even indoor pets can be exposed to mosquitoes, and it only takes one bite by an infected mosquito to create a problem.

During a bite, a Heartworm infected mosquito injects a larva into the pet's blood stream. This larva matures and migrates to the right side of the heart; they can also migrate to the liver and lungs of your canine or feline. At these locations the adult worms reproduce, destroying tissue as they do so. Each parasite can survive 5-7 years, and they grow up to 12 inches in length.

Unfortunately by the time your buddy shows symptoms of this illness, the disease process is already very advanced. Typical symptoms in dogs include coughing, exhaustion, bloody mucus, fainting, and weight loss. In cats, vomiting is common. Coughing and sudden death can also occur.

Heartworm is identified by blood tests. In dogs, one test looks for an antigen to the adult female Heartworm. A second test identifies the immature or microfilarial stage. Once a dog is identified as infected, other tests such as chest xrays will be used to evaluate the severity of the illness.

There is no treatment to kill Heartworms in cats; there is only supportive care. Treatment for Heartworm in dogs is no longer being made in the United States. Drugs, which are related to Arsenic are being ordered from Europe, and are only available in limited supply. When meds are available, a series of injections are given. Therapy requires strict cage confinement for 4 weeks following each treatment. A dog can die if they are too active. Dead adult worms form clots in the body, and death can occur if these clots migrate and lodge in the bloodstream. This therapy is expensive, and runs on average $2000-3000.

The safest strategy for your canines and felines is to provide year round monthly protection against Heartworm. In comparison to treatment in dogs, this is an inexpensive way to protect your buddy from this deadly disease. Heartworm preventatives also protect your companions from many internal parasites such as Roundworm, Hookworm, and Whipworm. This is important because Roundworm and Hookworm are also spreadable to people. Don’t let your canine or feline lick you on the mouth, as this is the most common method of transmission. Our clinic recommends oral Heartguard or Trifexis for dogs, and topical Advantage-multi for cats.

If your companion is under 6 months, they can start on preventatives without a blood test. For patients over 6 months a blood test is required to make sure they do not already have Heartworm. The product manufacturers recommend annual blood testing. Our clinic requires testing every 2 years. These products are by prescription only, and various animal hospitals may have different testing requirements. Prevention is the key to keeping your canines and felines safe from this deadly illness.

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Monday, 23 October 2017