Unusually Warm Winter Will Increase Heartworm Risk for Dogs

Those of you who live in New England (where both Melissa and myself live) know that this past winter was not the usual, miserable and snowy winter that we are accustomed to. In fact, in my area, we only saw snow maybe 4 or 5 times in total the whole season, with no notable accumulation. I am not complaining about that though!

mosquitoHowever, it is important to note that because of the mild winter season, mosquitoes, ticks and fleas are expected to be prevalent this spring and summer. This means that pet owners need to be educated and prepared to combat these parasites that can cause serious illness and discomfort for their dogs.

We're going to start by focusing on mosquitoes and the threat they bring.

Mosquitoes spread heartworms -- the most dangerous parasitic worms that infect dogs. Hundreds of thousands of cases of canine heartworms are reported each year in the U.S., and because mosquitoes are responsible for spreading the disease between dogs, that means that every dog is at risk for getting heartworms. Scary, right?

Mosquitoes will bite a dog and deposit tiny immature heartworms, called larvae. These parasites enter the dog via the bite wound and migrate beneath the skin, eventually reaching the heart and lungs. These unwelcome intruders can grow up to 12 inches in length. Heartworm disease is debilitating and may even prove fatal.

Early signs of heartworms can be easy to miss, making the risk even more frightening for dog owners. The earliest signs of an infected dog could include coughing or wheezing, and an unwillingness to play or tiredness. Because these early signs can easily be confused for other things, the only true way to determine whether your dog has heartworm disease is to have your veterinarian administer a heartworm test.

Treatment for heartworms can be lengthy, expensive and difficult for your dog to cope with. Dogs must receive a series of arsenic-based shots to kill the worms and must spend up to 6-8 weeks in an environment that will not exert the dog's heart and lungs. This could likely mean you'd end up crating your dog for that time period to limit activity and prevent overexertion. Who wants to do that to their dog?!

That is why it is imperative that dog owners take preventative steps rather than wait until it's too late. There are a number of heartworm prevention medications on the market today, but as always, it's most important that you speak with your regular veterinarian to determine the best prevention for you and your pet. All dogs should also be tested for heartworm before they begin any preventative program.funny dog picture about mosquitoes

Heartgard is one such preventative treatment. I have had Gadget on Heartgard for years now, as suggested by her vet and I have never had any issues with it. Reviews show that Heartgard is well-tolerated by dogs, and it comes in a beef chewable tablet that Gadget seems to enjoy. It's imperative that once any preventative program is started, that owners stay on top of schedule and give the medication to their dog at the same time every month. Gadget gets her Heartgard chew on the first day of every month.

Heartgard treats and controls roundworms and hookworms too, which are two of the most common intestinal parasites found in dogs. Roundworms and hookworms are very easy for dogs to ingest during normal activities such as playing outside and nursing as puppies.

So if your dog isn't already on some form of heartworm prevention, schedule a consultation with your veterinarian to discuss how you should be protecting your pet, and keep an eye out for our follow-up blogs on tick and flea prevention.