Heartworm Prevention

There are many different parasites that can affect our adorable animals. When we become pet parents, we become responsible for all aspects of their care, including keeping them safe from harmful, preventable diseases including those caused by parasites. One of the most dangerous parasites that can affect cats and dogs is heartworms.

Here is what you need to know about heartworms, what they mean for your pet and what you can and should do to keep your furbaby fully protected from this potentially deadly parasite.

About heartworms

Heartworms are an internal parasite. This means that they live inside your pet’s body, and more specifically, in the blood vessels of her heart and lungs. Unlike other types of worm which are spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal, heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos who transfer larvae from host to host. Once your pet is infected, it takes around six months for the larvae to be transmitted through the bloodstream to the blood vessels that they will call home. During this time, the larvae are also maturing into adult heartworms that can reproduce. An adult heartworm can grow up to 12 inches in length. Although very thin, like cooked spaghetti, as their numbers grow the heartworms can begin to prevent the normal flow of blood around your pet’s body – something which can cause damage to her organs. Cats are. Not a natural host of heartworms, and typically are only ever affected by one or two. However, dogs can be severely affected and in serious cases, can play host to several hundred heartworms.

Symptoms of heartworms

As you might expect, the more heartworms your dog has, the greater the effect on her health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the symptoms of heartworms are very mild and easily overlooked. They also don’t become apparent until any heartworm larvae have matured – so at least six months after infection. Signs to look out for include:

  • A soft, persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the number of heartworms grows, blood flow in your pet’s body becomes increasingly compromised until there is irreversible damage to her organs. Compromised body functions, organ failure and then death are inevitable unless treatment is sought very quickly.

Choosing the right heartworm prevention

With a wide variety of different preventative medications available, trying to find the right one for your pet can feel overwhelming. This is where your veterinary team prove invaluable. With extensive knowledge and experience, they will be able to recommend which heartworm preventative is most suitable for your furbaby, as well as explaining the importance of making sure that you administer the preventative on the recommended schedule. Being just a few days late with your chosen treatment could leave your pet vulnerable to being bitten by a mosquito carrying heartworms.

There are predominantly two types of preventative to choose from. These include single products that only prevent heartworms and combination preventatives that also protect your pet against other types of parasites such as fleas, ticks or other parasitic worms. Many owners find combination preventatives more cost-effective and convenient. However, there are some options that only protect against heartworms that are extremely popular. One example is ProHeart 6 or ProHeart 12. Both of these are injectable preventatives, rather than being taken orally. They can only be given by your vet but can protect your pet against heartworms for 6 or 12 months respectively. For many owners, the peace of mind of longer protection makes these products a preferred option.

If you would like advice on choosing the right heartworm prevention for your pet, our knowledgeable veterinary team would be happy to help. Please contact us today to speak to us or to arrange an appointment.