Beware of heartworm!

Veterinarian, Michelle Lalancette explains the importance of preventing heartworm in your dog.

Beware of heartworm!

Heartworm—that’s right, they are actual worms that settle and live in your pet’s heart, particularly dogs—is spread by mosquito.

If your canine friend is a carrier, they also become a potential source of infection. You see, when a mosquito bites a carrier, they then take some microfilariae found in the carrier animal’s blood. In ten to fourteen days, this becomes infectious larvae that, in turn, get “injected” into other dogs when the mosquito bites them.

According to Dr. Michelle Lalancette, owner of the Bois-des-Filion and La Plaine veterinary clinics, preventive measures began to be implemented in Québec around the mid 1980s. In Dr. Lalancette’s opinion, we shouldn’t hesitate to take measures to prevent the spread of this disease, which can be very difficult to treat. Heartworm parasites can cause all sorts of often-serious conditions, including, of course, heart problems. It is much easier to prevent heartworm, especially when you consider that preventive medication is administered quite easily, once a month. It can simply be put in with dry food, for example.

“It’s so easy to prevent heartworm, says Dr. Lalancette. “We should not hesitate. What’s more, today, the same drug can prevent and treat flees as well as all the usual summertime and intestinal parasites.”

Do these preventive measures need to be taken every year? “Yes and we usually recommend a test before you administer the medication. You should also note that it takes at least six months before we can really see if a dog’s blood is infected with the microfilaria or not. Since the at-risk season ends in late November, it’s a good idea to wait until April or May before screening; then administering preventive mediation June 1. It would simply be too early to perform these measures in winter.”

Make sure your pet doesn't become a heartworm "incubator"

When we broached the subject of heartworm with Dr. Lucie Hénault, veterinarian at the Montreal Veterinary Hospital, she immediately started telling us about wild animals, like wolves and coyotes. “These animals are veritable “reservoirs” of heartworm. And in fact, they are always active reservoirs because they go untreated. Mosquitoes pick up the parasites and carry them along. Please don’t assume that because your dog doesn’t really leave the house that they are not at risk. Mosquitoes are everywhere and they are serious spreaders of disease.”

Dogs who carry the disease without their owners knowing, are also heartworm incubators. “It can take a long time before the disease is detected in a dog, says Dr. Hénault. “By the time we know about it, it’s usually too late. Unfortunately, most dogs die because the worms have simply been in their hearts for too long a time.”

What are the symptoms of heartworm? Can it be treated?

You won’t notice any symptoms of heartworm right away. However, at one point, your dog will start coughing, they won’t want to exercise… in other words, you’ll start to notice a general decline in their overall condition.

If your beloved pet does become infected with heartworm, the treatment is carried out in several stages. “It will be difficult for your dog, states Dr. Lalancette, “and they’ll face certain risks… mostly due to the decomposition of the heartworms in the body that can cause embolisms, for example.”

The message is clear:  so much better to prevent heartworms! If your dog could talk, they would, without a doubt, say: “A nibble a month keeps the parasite away forever? Let’s do it!”

You have more questions?

Do not hesitate to contact the nearest Passionimo veterinary clinic.