Summer time is here! Time to protect your pets….

In my previous blog, I talked about the importance of protecting our canine family members against deer ticks and subsequent Lyme’s Disease. Part of that plan included running the 4DX Test to screen for the presence of any of the three tick diseases that can occur in our area (Lyme’s, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma). Well, those are only three of the “four” diseases that are screened in the 4DX Test. The fourth disease that we have to be cautious of is Heartworm Disease. Testing for this allows our doctors and staff at Northern Veterinary Associates to develop a successful prevention and management plan.

Disease Background:

Heartworm Disease is a preventable, yet debilitating and life-threatening disease of cats, dogs, and other related animals. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus our attention on canine heartworm disease, as this is the biggest concern in our area.

Heartworm is a parasite that gets into the circulatory system of dogs through the bite of an infected mosquito. “Heartworm” is a bit of a misnomer, as this parasite does most of its damage in the blood vessels that lead from the heart to the lungs. However, the end result is your canine companion developing clinical signs similar to congestive heart failure and lung disease. Your dog can act completely normal for a long period of time, even though they are harboring the parasite in their body. It is only after the disease reaches a certain stage that they start acting sick. Very often, the disease is too progressed to allow for successful treatment and recovery. Screening leads to early detection, a better prognosis, and much easier management of the disease.

Symptoms:

  • Persistent cough
  • Reluctant to exercise
  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight Loss

 

Testing:

How do we screen and prevent this terrible disease? As I mentioned before, we use the 4DX test to screen for the presence of the Heartworm antigen. In our area, this test is best run in the Spring of the year, as we are screening for dogs that were infected the previous Fall. After a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, it can take up to 6 months to show up on the test. The 4DX test requires only a simple blood draw, and it takes a mere 15 minutes to get a result.

We often get asked why a dog needs to be tested for heartworm if they are on a preventative medicine all year long. Annual testing is necessary to ensure the prevention program is working. Even though the medications are highly effective, there are many factors that can negatively affect their success. Missing a dose, giving a dose late in the month, or your pet unknowingly spitting the pill out are three common situations.

 

Prevention:

Heartworm preventatives are given orally as a soft treat or a tablet, once a month. The two that we carry at our clinic are:

Heartgard (www.heartgard.com)

Interceptor (www.interceptorpet.com).

All FDA approved heartworm preventative medications eliminate the parasite in its immature and larval stage, but not their adult stage. It is extremely important that the medicine be given on schedule so they are eliminated before they develop into that adult stage. Having said that, it is MUCH easier to prevent the disease rather than treat the disease.  Adult heartworm therapy is very expensive ($700 – $1000) and the medicine used can also make the patient very ill. For that reason, we do not take this type of therapy lightly. That is why we always recommend the best screening and prevention protocol available.

So, enjoy the summer in our beautiful area! Also, do your canine family member a favor and call us to set up an appointment to have them tested for Heartworm. We can then assist you with the proper plan to treat or prevent this horrible disease.

For more information:

https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources

www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Heartworm-Disease.aspx

http://richmondspca.typepad.com/richmond-spca-blog/2011/04/treatment-of-heartworm-disease-comes-with-risks.html