To pet owners, spring time is notoriously known as “heartworm season,” as well as “flea and tick season.” Springtime is when many creepy crawlies begin to come out of their hibernation to start their life-cycles, increasing the risk of your pet becoming infected.
The main illnesses to be mindful of are :
- Ticks (which can spread Lyme disease and other diseases as well)
- Leptospirosis (a bacteria shed in the urine of wildlife, especially raccoons)
- Intestinal Parasites (roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, etc)
For the sake of this blog, we will be focusing on the heartworm parasite. For more information on the other illnesses, stay tuned for our other blog posts! [April 2021’s blog outlines information on ticks!]
Heartworm is a parasite that is spread by the bite of a mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected animal (fox, wolf, coyote, other dog, cat, etc.) it picks up the larval stage of the parasite, known as microfilaria. The microfilaria then develop and mature (during an incubation period of 10 to 14 days) into “infective stage” larvae. Until that incubation period is complete, the mosquito cannot infect other animals with the heartworm parasite. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infectious, so it’s safest to assume all mosquitoes may be a risk. Once the incubation period is complete, if the infected mosquito bites another mammal (commonly dogs, cats, ferrets, coyotes, wolves and foxes), the larvae enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound.
Once inside a new host, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to develop into sexually mature adult heartworms and begin to reproduce. Heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs, and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. Because of the longevity of the heartworm parasite, an infected pet can end up with many worms residing in their circulatory system.
Mature heartworm reside within the vessels and chambers of the right side of the heart of their host. If left untreated, this can lead to heart failure or sudden death for an infected pet, if the worms break free and embolize to the lungs.
Fortunately, with a little prevention, our spring and summer seasons can still be enjoyed, despite these dangerous parasites! For dogs, it is recommended to perform heartworm testing on yearly basis. This involves taking a small sample of blood and checking for the presence of the heartworm parasite. Given the rise in tick-borne diseases, often laboratories will offer combination heartworm and tick-born disease testing! If the tests come back negative, preventative medication is dispensed, to be administered on a monthly basis throughout the season.
Preventative medication should be administered on a monthly basis throughout the season (May through November for ticks, and June through November for heartworm). Preventative medication should be given beginning in the early spring, until the late fall to ensure that your pet receives protection during any month that will potentially have weather conducive for mosquitoes to thrive. Furthermore, if, during the colder winter season, you and your pet travel to warmer areas where mosquitoes are present, consider purchasing heartworm preventative medication for that time frame as well.
Preventative medication comes in two forms – either as a tablet that is taken orally, or as a liquid that is applied to their skin and absorbed. Depending on which preventative medication is selected, they often also include protection against ticks, fleas and various intestinal parasites such as roundworms, whipworms, or tapeworms. This also influences when to begin, and end, administering preventative medication, as certain parasites, like ticks, will pose a threat to your pet in cooler temperature.
Please call us if you have any further questions about Heartworm, and please bring your pets in for their heartworm and tick blood test and flea/tick/heartworm preventative medication today!