With the incidence of heartworm infection on the rise, and heartworm infection having been diagnosed in every state, it is more important than ever to make sure your pet is protected from this preventable disease.

According to the American Heartworm Society, only 4 in 10 dogs and 1 in 10 cats are on heartworm preventives. That leaves an awful lot of unprotected pets who are not only at risk of becoming infected with heartworms, but also of becoming contributors to the ongoing proliferation and spread of infection prevalence. Since 2013, the nationwide average number of heartworm-positive dogs has risen 21.7 percent. That means there are more heartworm-positive pets around from which a mosquito could transfer infection to yours, thereby increasing the potential for your pet to become infected if she is left unprotected.

When a mosquito takes a blood meal from a pet or wild animal infected with heartworms, it also takes in microscopic baby heartworms called microfilaria. These microfilaria circulate in the bloodstream. While inside the mosquito, the microfilaria mature into the “infective stage” larvae. This process normally takes 10 to 14 days. After the microfilaria have developed into the “infective stage” larvae, the next time the mosquito takes a blood meal, it deposits these larvae which then enter the new host through the mosquito bite wound. Over the course of about six months, the larvae develop into adult heartworms which can live in dogs for five to seven years and for two or three years in cats. Due to their long lifespan, subsequent infective bites over the course of several seasons can result in increased numbers of heartworms in an infected pet.

While there is a treatment protocol for dogs who become infected with heartworm, it is not an inexpensive process and is often very hard on your canine companion. Because of the damage heartworms inflict, your pet could be facing irreparable effects without testing to catch infection early. Cats are less fortunate as there is currently no approved treatment for heartworm infection, and they can only be provided supportive care while they attempt to clear the infection. In either case, your pet may never be the same following a bout with heartworms.

The increased incidence of travel to and from heartworm-prone areas has helped proliferate the incidence of infection. Pets who otherwise might not have been exposed to heartworm infection can become so by travel to an area where heartworm is prevalent or by exposure to a pet from an area where heartworm is prevalent. These travels could be due to scheduled events such as dog and cat shows, or they may be in response to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood. Either way, the exposure is the same.

The best way to combat heartworm infection is to keep your pet on a year-round preventive and test yearly to ensure your pet is still heartworm-free. Doing so provides your pet the best possible protection from infection. There are several options for preventing heartworm infection in your pet. We are happy to discuss pros and cons for each with you and help select the one that is right for your pet and lifestyle. If your pet is not currently on a heartworm preventive, please contact us to schedule an appointment to have your pet tested and to get a preventive regimen in place.