You might notice that we are starting to get more vocal about our recommendation that all dogs either be on monthly heartworm preventative year-round or tested for the disease annually. In the past, we’ve encouraged it, but we’ve kind of slipped a bit recently. It’s easy to get neglectful about preventative when you live in Pennsylvania– it’s not like we’re in The South where they have hundreds upon hundreds of afflicted animals. Heartworm has never been a huge risk in Pennsylvania, and it’s still not.
It is a growing risk.
Heartworm disease is quite literally worms living and growing in the heart. The larvae are passed from infected mosquitos biting and transmitting them into a dog’s bloodstream. From there, they spread throughout the bloodstream, and as they mature and grow they migrate to the heart and lungs, where they take up residence. Left unchecked, a heartworm infection can lead to severe heart disease, failure, and death. It is not a nice disease. It can be treated, but the treatment is expensive and somewhat risky depending on the severity of the infection. Often, the damage to the heart is permanent.
Check out this nifty interactive map on the Pets and Parasites website. Click on Heartworm and follow the prompts to check out the PA map. This map shows the number of reported tests and positives. There is not a lot of heartworm… but there is not no heartworm, either. We don’t know how many positive tests were not reported, and we also don’t know how many infected dogs are going undetected. This is the scary part, because these dogs form a reservoir from which heartworms can be spread. If a mosquito bites an infected dog and then later bites your dog, your dog can become infected. It happens as quickly and easily as that.
Our world is changing, and with it, the incidence and distribution of parasites and diseases such as Lyme disease and heartworm disease also changes. It used to be that heartworm disease was not a big concern because we get cold cold winters that killed off all the mosquitos. This past winter was cold, but unusually so. We have seen a trend toward milder weather, and mosquitos like mild.
Another big change is with the animal rescue community. We are seeing more and more small rescues which are rescuing dogs from poor Southern animal shelters and bringing them up here. These dogs frequently carry heartworm disease, and while they might be treated once they get here, they still bring that disease to the area. In addition, many of these rescue groups use a slow-kill method of treatment, which we are now discovering is leading to heartworms which are immune to all of the heartworm preventative drugs we have. Fortunately, this has so far been contained to the area around the Mississippi River, but it’s a scary scary thought.
All of these factors contribute to our goal of testing and protecting all dogs against heartworm disease. A monthly tablet (Sentinel) or chew (Heartgard Plus) can stop heartworm infections before they develop by killing any of the larvae your dog might have picked up in the last month. If you kill them off monthly, the worms never have a chance to grow and cause harm. In addition, our heartworm preventative medications help control many of the intestinal parasites which are more common to our area– things like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.
If your dog is not currently on heartworm medication, or if you’re not very consistent about giving it and you would like to schedule an appointment to have your dog tested, please give us a call at 717-665-2338. Our staff can give you the information you need and point you toward the test that would best fit your dogs’ lifestyle. We can also get your pup started on preventative to make sure he does not develop this horrible disease.