2012-03-23 / Columnists

Paws For A Moment

Heartworm Disease? On The South Shore Of Long Island?
Commentary by Karina B. Salvo, MS, DVM, Belle Harbor House Calls

Spring has arrived and soon the warmer weather as well! Are all of your animals up to date on their heartworm prevention? If not, keep reading ... because of the severity and threat to life that heartworm disease presents …here it is again for those that have missed it!

Heartworm disease is transmitted via the pesky mosquito. But mosquitos are becoming more hearty and are withstanding our winter more and more easily.

Mosquitoes thrive in areas of stagnant water such as puddles, flower pots, areas that are undisturbed and allowed to collect water. So what’s the buzz about mosquitoes, anyway?

Mosquitoes are the cause of heartworm disease in our dogs AND cats!

Mosquitoes have multiple stages of development and require various environments and temperatures to complete their lifecycles. Here in the Rockaways we can have bitter winters, but mosquitoes can find a way to survive through it! Various stages of mosquito development stop during colder temperatures, but quickly resume with warmer weather. Mosquitoes need a blood meal for egg development. When the mosquito bites, it can transmit a life stage of the heartworm that it is infected with. This stage of the heartworm enters into the skin of the animal through the bite wound, undergoes various developmental stages, and eventually develops into an adult worm within the heart or lung of the animal bitten.

The main host (animal that supports the development of a parasite) of the heartworm is the dog. Our feline friends are a less suitable host, but CAN act as a source of heartworm infection for the mosquitoes that may bite them, thereby increasing the number of infected mosquitoes with heartworm disease in our community.

Signs that we may have a positive pet can range from not having any signs to a cough, not being able to perform the same exercise routine as usual, difficulty breathing, abnormal lung sounds, heart murmur, enlarged liver, fluid accumulation and even death. Our feline friends are a little more tricky! Many have no clinical signs or signs that are so subtle that owners don’t even notice! Feline heartworm disease can affect various organ systems other than the heart; signs can be coughing, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea, blindness, weight loss, seizures, increased heart rate, collapse and death.

Yikes! Is it treatable?

Yes and no.

Treatment for the dog is available and is more successful in recent years than in prior years and is dependant upon the extent of infection.

It’s expensive and it’s painful …and currently on manufacturer backorder! Feline friends aren’t so lucky. There is no approved treatment in the US for cats. Some infections in cats have been known to spontaneously resolve as others more heavily infected are treated supportively.

Now that I have depressed all my readers, there is still enough room for the good news! Heartworm disease is PREVENTABLE! There are a variety of preventives available on the market today ranging from topicals, to orals and injectables. It is important to verify that your pet is negative prior to starting a preventative. esting in both the dog and the cat requires a small amount of blood.

Testing in the dog can be done while you wait! So you know right away! The cat again gets no easy breaks; it has been recommended (by the American Heartworm Society) that two different blood tests be used to facilitate a more accurate basis for determination of a negative result. Cats are so complicated! (I can say this because I have four frisky felines!).

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to call me at 718- 474-PAWS, Visit our new website www.PawPrintsAMC.com and Facebook!

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