Prevention is your dog's best bet against heartworm disease.
It's hard to fathom how worms can live inside your dog's beating heart, but they can, and if your pet gets infected they could severely damage his heart and lungs.
Heartworms spread by traveling inside mosquitoes as larvae. When infected mosquitoes bite your dog, the heartworm larvae transfer to your pet and work their way to his heart. Once there, the worms grow, feeding off the lining of the heart and plugging essential blood vessels.
Because mosquitoes spread them, heartworms are found throughout the world. In the United States, the incidence is highest along the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The disease is less common along the northern borders and at higher elevations.
If mosquitoes are biting you, chances are they're biting your pet too, so you need to protect him from heartworm disease. Happily, new preventive medications cause few side effects, combine heartworm prevention with other parasite barriers, and come in convenient once-a-month doses.
If your dog is not taking preventive medicine and is six months or older, he may already be infected with reproducing adult heartworms. Your veterinarian needs to use a blood test to confirm that your pet is heartworm-free before your dog can start taking the medication.
Why? If an infected dog takes heartworm prevention he runs the risk of an anaphylactic-shock reaction because the treatment involves a sudden killing of microfilaria, or baby heartworms, present in the bloodstream.
There are several preventive medications on the market:
Any of these prescription medications gives your pet excellent protection against heartworms.
If your dog does get heartworms, he can be treated. But the treatment involves expensive injections with potentially toxic reactions, so it's best to start prevention early to preserve your pet's health.