All dogs, cats, and ferrets are susceptible to heartworms all year, regardless if they are inside or outside pets. That is why monthly heartworm prevention is so important, especially in the Southeast where mosquitoes flourish. All it takes is one bite from an infected mosquito for your pet to become infected with heartworms. There is only medical management for this disease process in cats and ferrets and the disease can be fatal. This makes monthly prevention the only way we can be sure that our cats and ferrets do not lose their lives to this preventable disease. However, if they are infected we can medically manage the condition to provide the longest quality of life possible.
Dogs are the primary host for mosquitoes so heartworms can live in a dog’s heart for a long time, causing permanent damage to the heart, its vessels, and the lungs. This disease process left untreated will continue to cause damage to the point of heart failure or liver failure, resulting in death. The good news is that there is a safe and effective way to treat the heartworms, so that your dog does not die from the disease. The other good news is that if you have purchased your heartworm prevention for each month from your veterinarian and have a negative yearly test for heartworms, if there is product failure (which happens rarely) and your pet does get heartworms, the company will cover the cost of the heartworm treatment. That is why it is so important to purchase your heartworm prevention from a veterinarian and get your yearly heartworm check. The companies that produce heartworm prevention are not selling their product to on-line pharmacies, so they ask veterinarians not to have their patients order on-line medications and they will not offer any guarantee on a product that comes from an on-line pharmacy.
If your dog is found to have heartworms, the best way to evaluate the extent of the damage is through blood work and x-rays of the chest. This allows the doctor to better inform you of the disease progression and the level of risk in the treatment of the heartworms. Elgin Veterinary Hospital always offers the safest heartworm treatment option, which is a three step process. Your dog would receive one injection to start to kill the adult worms slowly, so that the body is less likely to react to the worms dying and go into shock. You then need to keep your pet quiet (and we are happy to provide sedatives as needed) for the next 30 days while part of the adult worms are dying. At the end of those 30 days, your dog stays with us for 2 days while he/she receives two shots, given 24 hours apart, to finish killing the rest of the adult worms. Again, you will need to keep your pet quiet for another 30 days. At the end of those 30 days, your dog comes in for a quick appointment where an oral dose of medication to kill any baby heartworms (or microfilaria) that may be in the body. At the end of this 3 step program your dog is heartworm free and can go on to live a normal happy life. It is important to start your dog on heartworm prevention as soon as we discover that he/she is heartworm positive because the treatment does not prevent your dog from becoming re-infected and that is the last thing we would want. The treatment also does not prevent your pet from getting re-infected in the future, so you want to continue to give the heartworm prevention monthly for the rest of his/her life. Heartworm disease can be confusing and there is a lot of misinformation out there, but our ability to detect and treat this disease has rapidly advanced over the past few years so we are able to more effectively and safely treat your pet. Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the disease, the different options for prevention, and the treatment protocol we use.