This guest post was authored by Alicia Harris, LVT, Manager, Veterinary Technical Solutions at Merial
Cats and dogs in all 50 states are at risk of one common threat: heartworm disease. That is why every April – which is National Heartworm Awareness Month – Merial, Sanofi’s animal health division, is dedicated to spreading awareness about the disease.
Just one bite from an infected mosquito is all it takes. If a pet is not receiving a monthly heartworm preventive and is bitten by an infected mosquito, the immature heartworms (larvae) will develop into adult heartworms in about six months. These adult worms may reach up to a foot in length and live in a dog’s heart and pulmonary vessels for up to seven years. The effects of heartworm disease can be debilitating and even result in death. Heartworm treatment in dogs can be risky and expensive, and typically requires hospitalization and strict exercise restrictions post-heartworm treatment.
While working in-clinic as a veterinary technician, one of my primary duties was reinforcing my veterinarians’ recommendations for heartworm prevention. When talking about heartworm prevention with pet owners, it was not uncommon for them to share their misconceptions about the disease or simply underestimate the severity of heartworms. When this happened it was my responsibility to dispel any misconceptions and teach the facts about the disease, the risk factors to their pet and why administering heartworm prevention, year round, was an important part of protecting the health of the pet. It is imperative to understand that heartworm disease is not limited to a specific region of the country or breed of dog, and that the constant factor of risk is real. Most important to understand is that heartworm disease is preventable.
How to Help Prevent Heartworm Disease
Heartworm education and prevention should start on day one of welcoming your four-legged friend to the family. During the first visit with the veterinarian there should be a discussion about heartworm prevention as the veterinarian is the best qualified individual to assess the health care needs of pets. Based on the pet’s age, at the time of the visit, it may be necessary to conduct heartworm testing if the pet is not currently receiving a heartworm preventive. The reason testing may be necessary is to rule out whether or not the pet is currently infected with heartworms. Current tests on the market are designed to detect adult female heartworms. However, there are instances in which a test may be negative as a result of immature heartworms or all male heartworms at the time of testing.
Below are helpful questions to ask the veterinarian:
- What is heartworm disease?
- How is heartworm disease transmitted?
- What is the risk of my dog actually getting heartworm disease?
- Heartworm testing: When should the pet be tested? How often should the pet be tested?
- How often should I give a preventive?
- What heartworm preventive does the veterinarian recommend?
- What product is easiest to give?
Recognizing National Heartworm Awareness Month
Anyone with pets knows the joy and companionship they can bring. Protecting our furry family members is a team effort that involves both the veterinary professionals and the pet owner. The role of the veterinary professional is to ensure that every pet owner leaves the clinic with knowledge and product to prevent heartworm disease. Pet owners have an equally important responsibility to purchase the product and administer as prescribed in order to prevent this dangerous and deadly disease.
In recognition of National Heartworm Awareness Month, visit your local veterinary clinic or give them a quick call. Ask questions and talk with the staff to be sure you are offering your pet the best possible heartworm prevention.