What is Heartworm?

August 24th, 2020 | Posted by Chelsea Cappellano in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)
By: Lisa Malkin, Director of Hospital Administration for Humane Veterinary Hospitals — Information provided by the American Heartworm Society
  • What is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially deadly, parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets.

  • How is Heartworm transmitted?

Heartworms can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms called microfilariae enter into that mosquito’s system. Within two weeks, the microfilariae develop into infective larvae inside the mosquito; these infective larvae can be transmitted to another animal when this mosquito takes its next blood meal.

The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in approximately six months. During the first three months, the larvae migrate through the animal’s body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs. During the last three months, the immature worms continue to develop and grow into adults, with females growing to lengths of up to 14 inches. The worms damage the blood vessels, and reduce the heart’s pumping ability, resulting in severe lung and heart disease. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it is called heartworm disease.

  • How can I tell if my dog has Heartworm Disease?

If your dog has been recently or mildly infected with heartworms, he/she may show no signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in the lungs and signs of heartworm disease are observed. As the disease progresses, your dog may cough, become lethargic, lose his/her appetite or have difficulty breathing. You may notice that your dog seems to tire rapidly after only moderate exercise.

  • Where are Heartworms found?

Geographically, heartworms are a potential threat in every state as well as in many other countries around the world. All dogs, regardless of age, sex, or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm infection.

  • What pets should be tested for Heartworm Disease?

Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet exposed to mosquitoes should be tested. This includes pets that only go outside occasionally. Remember that mosquitoes can also get into homes, putting indoor-only pets at risk as well.

  • How the Veterinarian tests for Heartworm Disease?

Blood tests are performed by your veterinarian to detect the presence of adult heartworm infection (>6 month old infections) in your dog. The antigen test is most commonly performed, and is very accurate in dogs. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult female heartworms, and antibody tests determine if your pet has been exposed to heartworms.

Further tests, such as chest radiographs (x-rays), a blood profile and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, to evaluate the severity of the disease, and to determine the best treatment plan for your dog.

All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care.

 

Following are guidelines on testing and timing:

  • Puppies under 7 months of age can be started on heartworm prevention without a heartworm test (it takes at least 6 months for a dog to test positive after it has been infected), but should be tested 6 months after your initial visit, tested again 6 months later and yearly after that to ensure they are heartworm-free.
  • Adult dogs over 7 months of age and previously not on a preventive need to be tested prior to starting heartworm prevention.  They, too, need to be tested 6 months and 12 months later and annually after that.
  • You need to consult your veterinarian, and immediately re-start your dog on monthly preventive—then retest your dog 6 months later. The reason for re-testing is that heartworms must be approximately 7 months old before the infection can be diagnosed.

Annual testing is necessary, even when dogs are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective, but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm pill—or rub off a topical medication. Heartworm preventives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog tested, you won’t know your dog needs treatment.

 

  • If my dog tests positive, how can my dog be treated?

Heartworm is a progressive, life-threatening disease. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the chances that your pet will recover and have less complications.

As with most medical problems, it is much better to prevent heartworm infection than to treat it. However, if your dog does become infected with heartworms there is an FDA-approved treatment available. There is substantial risk involved in treating a dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely in dogs that are in good health and when you carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions.

The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year.

For more information, visit: www.avma.org or

American Heartworm Society   www.heartwormsociety.org

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By: Suzanne D’Alonzo, Community Outreach Programs Manager for Humane Pennsylvania

Our Community Outreach Team meets many pet owners facing complex issues, and Spike’s Pet Pantry lets us repeatedly connect with clients.  Before social distancing protocols were put into place, we knew a fair amount about the pets, situations, and families of our pet pantry clients.  We’ll get back to a time when our client connections will again be more interactional and conversational, less transactional.  And thinking about the conversations that currently have to be skipped as we limit client interactions got me thinking about conversations I’ve had.  And I realize I’ve learned a lot from those I serve.

Spike’s Pet Pantry clients are motivated to find ways to meet their pets’ needs.  While every client and their situation is unique, similar threads crop up in the stories:  pets are considered family and the fear of not being able to provide weighs on pet owners.  No matter the situation that led them to our program, our pet pantry clients have a variety of ways to stretch their limited resources.  They do their best and that keeps their beloved pets in their homes.  Frankly, it’s impressive.

It’s also universal.  A colleague is publishing his multi-city study of how pet owners cope with pet food insecurity.  The lessons I find here in Berks and Lancaster counties match those of pet owners around the country.  Effort and ingenuity keep animals in their homes and out of the shelter system; that’s a win for everyone.  Knowing details about how owners provide for their pets means our program has important facts.  Having these details means the opportunity to improve our program so it’s the best fit for pet owners in need.

Owners tell us about how they forgo other purchases so they can provide for their pet.  Sometimes it’s the stuff that makes life easier- pre-made meals from the grocery or a restaurant after a tough week, a favorite treat, or a little something new.  Sometimes it’s a tougher decision, with pet owners juggling which bills get addressed right away or deciding which prescriptions can wait.  It’s usually about making things work on a fixed income, even creating a timeline for purchases of all the things that are needed- the family’s food, school supplies, gas for the car, pet food, etc.

We hear about future plans for purchases of pet-related items- which stores have what on sale, what coupons can be used, the best places for online pet-supply shopping, etc.  That might leave room for vet care or grooming supplies when they’re needed.  Often it comes down to strategy: supplement pet food with what comes from Spike’s Pet Pantry, purchasing only a small amount if the month’s allotment isn’t enough.  Or consolidate pet supply purchases, getting only a larger, cost-effective bag for when more food is needed.  Switch to a cheaper brand when possible.  Save some of the brand or flavor a pet really likes in case it’s needed to convince pets to eat a flavor they don’t like, so no food goes to waste.  Many creative ideas are shared with us and we see the amazing budgeting people use for their pets!

Clients will stretch dog food by adding cooked rice, sometimes vegetables, to their dogs’ meals.  They’ll convince finicky cats to eat with a few choice bits of their own dinner meat added in.  And we’ve learned about how pets other types of pets’ meals get managed when things are tight (did you know the best place to get a bale of hay for a rabbit?  I didn’t either until I got the scoop).  We also know that pet owners will skip meals themselves or share whatever they have with their pets if they aren’t able to secure an ample amount of pet food.

I’ve heard clients trading babysitting favors with relatives for a bag of dog food.  I’ve known owners to jointly purchase a big bag of pet food and split it, benefiting from the savings of bulk buying. Others borrow money or directly ask for pet food from friends or relatives.  I know folks who “share custody” or have sent pets to temporarily stay with an ex or a relative so pets’ needs get met.  It all works: the pets get fed and are still with the people who love them.

We even hear about some of the choices that, initially, seem to make less sense but that are logical in the long run.  Some of our clients may have long walks to get food home, or may be facing an eviction or upcoming move, or may have trouble lifting or storing larger amounts.  These are times we’ve come to realize when pet owners may need to take smaller quantities than they’d like to, or, when purchasing additional pet food, have to purchase smaller quantities at higher prices given their circumstances.  I recall one pet owner who knew she would likely be living in her car between rentals and did not have the space for a large amount of pet food.  Another had to get a ride from a friend while the friend made work deliveries.  Only so much would fit in the car at the same time as the other delivery items.  Yet another was a senior citizen taking care of her older sister.  Her elderly two dogs and cat were her world.  She was only able to lift about 5 pounds at a time, and she planned carefully as to how she could manage to get, then unload, a larger amount.

Since Spike’s Pet Pantry permits someone other than the client to make the monthly food pick up it’s pretty common that neighbors come together, sharing a ride.  That saves on gas, letting limited funds be wisely used.  There are a number of clients who pick up for relatives- one vehicle that will make the circuit between granny’s, an uncle’s, and home.  This works to get pet food to those who don’t have reliable transportation, who don’t have the time to make it to our pantry, or who physically cannot get out to pick up supplies.

I’ve been inspired listening to clients share what works for them.  I hear different perspectives, and one is not more “correct” than another.  Some clients who own both a dog and a cat will skip getting food for one type pet if they still have a supply at home, in hopes this helps everyone in the program get what they need.  I find this seems common with pet owners of a single cat or a petite dog.  Other clients go home with with the maximum we are able to provide, even if they still have some food, in hopes they might skip coming the following month if they have enough.

Pet owners facing pet food insecurity are doing a good job with what they have.  As I continue to meet clients- and get to know them, their families, their pets, and what’s happening in their lives- I really appreciate what they tell us.  Sharing your life and its challenges is uncomfortable, which makes the information all the more valuable.  Understanding how solutions to challenges can be cobbled together holds lessons.  It’s that information that help us modify and improve current programs.  It also lets us consider future projects or programming that could further assist wonderful pet owners who are finding ways to keep their pets in their homes!

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