Heartworm Prevention – Your Questions Answered

Heartworm prevention is a critical part of your pet’s regular wellness program. Every wellness visit should include a discussion with your vet about heartworm prevention.

With the unusually dry Monsoon season that just wrapped up, you would have thought that the mosquito count would be down and therefore the number of heartworm cases would also be down, but unfortunately, I have been seeing positive cases all year.

Every three years, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) gathers data on heartworm testing to understand the impact heartworm is having nationwide, as well as in specific regions. Testing data from thousands of veterinary practices and shelters is used to create this detailed map showing the average number of heartworm-positive cases per clinic.AHS 2019 Incidence Map

As this map shows, an American Heartworm Society survey of approximately 6,000 veterinary practices and shelters determined that heartworm disease continues to be diagnosed in all 50 states.

Although we typically don’t have a moist climate here in Arizona, we do have regular incidences of standing water – often through overwatering of community landscaping or due to abandoned pools. Pool abandonment caused a major mosquito problem during the housing crisis 10/12 years ago. Green pools led to an increase in mosquito activity that we still suffer from today.

Some of our most frequently asked questions about heartworm disease in Arizona:

What are heartworms?

How can my pet contract heartworms?

Heartworm is a parasite transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

Mosquito Mayhem

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

Coughing, shortness of breath/panting, easy tiring/intolerance of exercise, fluid accumulation in the abdomen or chest, nose bleeds, and at worst, sudden death. Not all of these symptoms necessarily occur in the same dog, nor is there necessarily a progression. An infected dog may have no symptoms at all, or may develop any of the signs on the list at any time. It takes five to seven months for a young heartworm to become detectable by blood test.

Heartworm prevention – what should I do?

Heartworm can be prevented with oral, topical, or injectable preventatives. You may have seen commercials for some of the major brands: Heartgard, Sentinel, Interceptor, Revolution and more. Consult your veterinarian. A heartworm test is needed before medication can be issued.

Should a puppy be given heartworm preventative?

The younger you can start a pet on a heartworm preventative the better. Consult with your veterinarian, but puppies as young as six weeks can be started on some products. An annual heartworm test will be required before medication can be issued, whatever the age of your pet.

Can cats get heartworm?

Yes, cats are also susceptible to heartworm if they are bitten by an infected mosquito. However they are not as prone to infection as dogs. Cats are considered more resistant to heartworms because the worms don’t thrive as well inside their  bodies. However, it is important to note that there is no approved heartworm treatment for cats if they do get infected. That’s why heartworm prevention is so important for cats, even though it’s estimated that only 5% of cats nationwide are on heartworm preventative medication. You can read more detail here: Heartworm Infection in Cats

I have an indoor cat; do I need to get it tested?

Both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk for heartworm disease. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquito bite. We all know that these pesky critters can make their way in to our homes, so even if your pet is indoors mostly, mosquitoes can still get in.

When is mosquito season in Phoenix?

Our mosquito season usually starts in earnest around March, and can last all the way through the Holidays. But it’s not unusual for mosquitoes to be found all year round, especially when we’ve had above average rainfall – not this year admittedly. But because of the tendency to overwater landscaping, we still get year-round activity. That’s why you need to be prepared to treat your pet year round.

Where can I find more information?

At Compassionate Animal Care we follow the American Heartworm Society’s recommendations. The first link will take you there. Veterinary Partner is also a great source of information on heartworm.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Of course, the best way to learn more about heartworm prevention and treatment is to talk to your veterinarian. Call 480.774.6995 to schedule an appointment with Compassionate Animal Care today.

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