Vet Blog

How to Protect Your Pet from Heartworms

April 16, 2019

Heartworms are a serious parasitic infection that can cause harm to your pet.

When a heartworm infection occurs, worms live inside your pet's body, deriving their nutrients from her body at her expense. But that isn't all.

When your pet has heartworms, the larvae, known as microfilaria, travel to her lungs, heart, and their associated blood vessels. This is where they will live, grow and eventually reproduce. It takes around six months for the microfilaria to mature and become able to create their own offspring. At this point, each worm could be up to a foot in length. These adults, and any offspring, will live in the blood vessels too, and the numbers of heartworms will grow until the blood vessels become increasingly blocked. This compromises the flow of blood around your pet's body, including that which serves her major organs. This can lead to organ damage, and if not treated, eventually organ failure and death.

So How Can You Protect Your Precious Pet from the Debilitating and Potentially Fatal Effects of Heartworms?

Fortunately, there are a number of things that you, as a responsible and committed owner, can do to help protect your pet from heartworms.

Regular Heartworm Testing

Heartworm testing is often included or recommended during annual pet wellness exams. If your pet isn't already having annual heartworm testing, then don't delay starting any longer.

The American Heartworm Society (AHS) recommends annual testing for all dogs, irrespective of their geographical location. In the past, heartworm disease was only believed to be a risk for dogs living in the southern states where mosquitos were more prevalent. However, migration of these insects combined with studies that have found cases of heartworms across all areas of the nation means that it is now a country-wide recommendation.

Regular heartworm testing is inexpensive and straightforward, requiring only a blood test to check for the presence of certain proteins produced by adult females.

The Right Preventative Treatments

The good news is that there are plenty of different heartworm preventatives to choose from, making it easy to find one that suits your pet. This is important because while some animals will take oral medications easily, others will not be fooled by pills hidden in their food. For this reason, preventatives tend to be available in three distinct forms. These are:

Oral medications. These pills are usually given once a month and will protect your pet from heartworms for approximately 30-35 days before another dose is required.

Topical treatments. These are ideal for pets who won't take oral medications and are placed onto her skin, usually between the shoulder blades so that she can't lick it off. Again, topical treatments tend to be effective for around a month before another dose is needed.

Injections. A newer preventative, these are given approximately every six months and will protect your pet from heartworms for around half a year.

As with any preventative medication or treatment, it is essential that you follow the schedule given to you by your veterinarian in Richmond, VA. This will ensure that further doses of treatment are scheduled before the previous one becomes ineffective and your pet will not be left vulnerable to infection. If you aren't sure which preventative is best for your pet your vet at Betty Baugh's Animal Clinic will be happy to advise you.

For professional advice on the best way to protect your pet from heartworms, please speak to our knowledgeable vets in Richmond, VA by calling our animal clinic at (804) 288-7387 today.