Heartworm 101 for Your Pets
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease that primarily affects dogs but may also affect cats and ferrets. Members of the dog family are natural hosts for heartworm where the lifecycle of heartworm will complete. Heartworm occurs in most regions of Canada and the United States, the incidence being higher in warmer climates where mosquitoes thrive all year round. Heartworm is easy to prevent, but rather difficult and costly to cure. The best treatment for heartworm is prevention!
Prevention is Key – Schedule Your Appointment!
It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to spread heartworm disease to your dog or cat. It only takes one feeding from an infected tick for your pet to contract Lyme disease. It only takes one female flea to cause a flea infestation.
These are all preventative diseases. There are a variety of treatment options available and it is recommended that you bring your pet in for annual wellness and disease testing.
We offer big discounts on wellness blood screens when combined with 4DX testing at this time of year! Since your pet is already having a blood sample taken, it is an excellent opportunity to easily examine your pet’s overall health at a microscopic level!
If your dog or cat is reaching his/her senior years (7 years for dogs, 11 years for cats) or needs regular monitoring because he/she is taking medication, now may be the time for yearly Wellness screening.
Call us at (519) 653-1003 to book your appointment today!
The Team at Gateway Pet Hospital
How is heartworm disease transmitted from one dog to another?
Heartworm disease is caused by a blood-borne parasite. The parasite requires the mosquito as an intermediate host before completing its life cycle. The life cycle begins when the female mosquito bites an infected animal (dog or other animal) and ingests the juvenile stage of the parasite from the bloodstream during the meal. Within 10-30 days, these juvenile stage parasites are now an infective stage in the mosquito and will transfer into the bloodstream of a dog during the mosquito’s next feeding. They then migrate to the heart of the dog where they mature into adult worms and reproduce. Within 6-7 months in the final host (your dog), the adult worms are producing new juvenile parasites.
What are the signs of heartworm?
In the early stages of the disease, most pets will show few clinical signs at all. By the time clinical signs are seen in your pet, the disease is well advanced. Clinical signs of heartworm disease in dogs may include a soft dry cough, shortness of breath, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite and weight loss. As the disease progresses, the dog may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluids in the abdomen. In cats, the disease does not progress to adult stage worms, however the juvenile stage can cause difficulty breathing and fatigue.
How does my veterinarian test for heartworm?
Annual testing for the presence of heartworm is done before starting the preventative treatment each spring. A blood sample is taken from your dog and a test called an ELISA test done to detect the presence of antigens released by the microfilariae. If your pet is suspected to already have adult heartworms, further tests may be done such as X-rays, ECG, ultrasound and extensive bloodwork.
How do monthly heartworm preventatives work?
Heartworm preventives come in oral form or a spot-on topical medication. These products work by eliminating the juvenile stages of the heartworm parasite. Because these juvenile stages must be eliminated before they reach the adult stage, it is extremely important that heartworm preventatives be administered strictly on schedule. For anyone travelling south for the winter and pets living in the southern states where mosquitoes are active all year, your pet should stay on heartworm preventative all year as well. In our temperate climates where mosquitoes are non-existent during the winter months, heartworm preventative is recommended from June to November.
There is no question that tick-borne diseases are on the rise. Ticks can overwinter as adults or nymphs (immature ticks). With an early spring, they can start feeding once the temperature warms above 4C. Comprehensive tick control is the best way to minimize the risk of infection in your dog. Ticks are challenging to control since there are peak seasons for activity and different species are active at different times of the year. Speak with your veterinarian about which tick control might be best for your pet.
Here in Canada, the most common canine tick-borne diseases are Lyme disease (Borrelia), Erlichiosis (Erlichia), Anaplasmosis (Anaplasma) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia).
Erlichiosis is spread by the Brown dog tick (lives indoors across Canada) and the Lone Star tick (eastern Canada). Rocky Mountain spotted fever is spread by the American dog tick (east of the Rockies) and the Lone Star tick. In eastern Canada, the black-legged tick (aka the deer tick) and in western Canada, the western black-legged tick, are the culprits who can transmit Lyme disease as well as Anaplasmosis.
Lyme disease is more frequently reported than any other tick-borne disease. The most heavily affected areas for ticks testing positive for Lyme disease in a surveillance study in Canada are in the Great Lakes region. Positive cases of Lyme disease reported in dogs were highest in southern Ontario and Quebec, areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as southeastern Manitoba.
Flea be Gone
Did you know that only 5% of the fleas (the adult stage) actually live on the host (your pet)? The other 95% are living in your home as larvae, pupae and eggs. An adult female flea can lay up to 2000 eggs in her lifetime. Fleas can occur year-round since they live in your home. However, the main risk period for outdoor exposure to adult fleas is May to October. Spring is the perfect time to see your veterinarian about flea control for your dog or cat.
The Bugs Inside
Dogs and cats also get intestinal parasites which can not only affect your pet’s health but also your family’s health! These include Giardia, hookworms, whipworms, roundworms and tapeworms. Many of these internal parasites are spread by intermediate hosts that live outdoors (deer mice, shrews, cows, sheep, fleas, earthworms…). Spring is the time to see your veterinarian and have a fecal test done to determine the presence of any intestinal parasites. Most internal parasites can be treated with your heartworm and flea and tick preventatives.
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