April is national heartworm awareness month! Annual heartworm prevention is something that we all hear about, but just how important is it? “Surely my pet can’t get heartworms” or “my pet doesn’t go outside that much”. That’s what we all tell ourselves right? What if I told you all it takes is one little mosquito bite? Mosquitos can be tiny and get in our homes (I know because I’ve personally squished some in my own home!) and of course they are outside roaming freely until their next meal comes along. If one infected mosquito carrying the larval stage of Dirofilaria immitus (heartworm) bites your dog, cat, or ferret they could get heartworms.

So, who can be infected with heartworms? Most commonly we hear about our canine friends, but did you know even our feline companions can also get heartworms? Yep! They can too. Other animals that can get heartworms are ferrets, coyotes, seals, sea lions, lions, tigers, and bears (1). Oh my! However, there’s a catch. Our cute, cuddly feline friends have NO treatment available for heartworms. There is a treatment for dogs, but it is rigorous and doesn’t repair the lifelong damage that their hearts suffer (1).

How do we make sure our fur babies stay safe from heartworms? Starting out as a puppy or kitten, we can get them started on the monthly chews or topical medications once they are old enough and an appropriate weight. This will give them a “jump start” on the heartworm prevention game. Heartworms take six months to mature enough in the body for the female heartworm antigen to be picked up on a test. Therefore, we recommend doing a yearly heartworm test. It’s a quick and easy procedure done in office and only takes about 10 minutes to get results. So long as your pet tests negative, they can either stay on their current prevention or be started on either the monthly chews or get year-round protection with one injection.

Prevention is key! I’ve always been told “it’s easier to prevent, than treat”. There are many forms of heartworm prevention on the market today. Everyone has probably seen or heard about the monthly chews, similar to flea/tick preventatives. Most dogs love getting a monthly chew because it’s just like a treat, quick and easy. There is another preventative that will cover your dog year-round for heartworms, ProHeart12. ProHeart12 is a one-time injection for dogs that are one year and older for the prevention of heartworms (3) and just like that your pet is covered all year, and you don’t have to remember to give your dog a monthly chew! Super easy. For cats, there is a monthly topical preventative called Revolution Plus. You just take the applicator, place it at the base of the neck (so they can’t lick it off) and apply at the skin. Make sure to part the fur! Revolution Plus also takes care of fleas and ticks, as well as some additional internal parasites (4). Bonus! Remember, our feline friends are just as important to help prevent these heartworms because there is no treatment for them!

Prevention is great and all, but what happens if your pet tests positive for heartworms? For dogs, an additional test may be recommended. However, the main goal will be to make sure your baby is stable if treatment is elected (2). If treatment is elected to move forward, your pet will be on a strict exercise restriction. This may be hard if you’re used to running with your dog or just playing with them in general, but for the health of the dog it’s for the best. If your pet were to overexert him or herself it could cause more damage to their heart and lungs (2). After your veterinarian has confirmed your dog is fit for treatment, they will make a protocol for treatment to take place (2). Then after their treatment has been complete, six months later there will need to be another heartworm test performed to confirm all the heartworms have been eliminated (2). And hopefully a negative test!

Prevention is always where we want to start, no one ever wants to hear their beloved pet is heartworm positive. Plus, it’s cheaper in the long run for pet owners! Treating a heartworm positive dog can be very very expensive. Treating a dog that has heartworms one-time can cost more than multiple years of heartworm prevention! By getting and keeping our fur babies on heartworm prevention year-round and annually testing them, we can help battle heartworm disease. Always consult your veterinarian for any questions or concerns you may have about heartworms or preventatives.