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April is National Heartworm Awareness Month—Are You Ready?

Heartworm disease, caused by a parasitic worm and spread through mosquito bites, is a serious infection in dogs that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death.

Heartworm has been reported in all 50 states, and up to 49% of dogs in animal shelters have heartworms - especially those in rural areas. Last year, Fetching Tails saved 32 heartworm-positive dogs, including 27 rescued from rural areas in Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, and Kentucky. Sunday's newest heartworm positive save is Lovely Rita. She is a mature small breed mix who has tested heartworm positive.

After a dog is infected, it takes about 6 to 7 months for the heartworms to mature and enter the bloodstream. Adult heartworms, which look like tangled strands of cooked spaghetti, can be treated with injections of an arsenic-containing drug. But treatment is hard on dogs, potentially toxic, and can cause serious complications, such as life-threatening blood clots that lodge in the lungs. Treatment is also a lengthy process, taking at least 60 days to complete, and expensive. Aside from the series of injections, which averages around $1000 depending on a dog’s size, blood tests, x-rays, and hospitalization are necessary. The best treatment for heartworm is prevention— it’s easy and relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost for heartworm infection treatment!

The first step is an annual blood test to detect the presence of heartworms. If a heartworm-positive dog is not tested before starting a preventive, the medication can be harmful or deadly. Following a negative blood test, many products are approved to prevent heartworm, all requiring a veterinarian’s prescription. Most preventives are given monthly year-round, either as a topical liquid applied to the skin or as an oral tablet (chewable or non-chewable). One product is injected under the skin every 6 or 12 months. Some heartworm preventives contain ingredients that are also effective against certain intestinal worms–roundworms, and hookworms, for example—and other parasites, including fleas, ticks, and ear mites.

The warm weather we’ve been enjoying lately means mosquitoes will soon reappear, and a whopping 30 different species of these insects are capable of transmitting heartworm. If your dog is 7 months of age or older, schedule a heartworm blood test ASAP and talk with your veterinarian about which preventive is best for your dog.

Written by: Michele G

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