Protect your pets from heartworm

How do dogs and cats get heartworm? I was curious to know how dogs actually get this dangerous and often fatal illness, and even though there is heartworm treatment for dogs available (much like flea prevention), less than half of dog owners actually use any type of preventative measures against heartworm on their dogs at all.

What is heartworm in the first place? Heartworm is a parasite spread by mosquitoes when the dog gets bitten, which can be fatal in dogs. Dogs who get heartworm often carry the parasite for months before they show very serious symptoms (6 months or so), and even then, they may not be serious enough for owners to pay heed or for owners to know what they are looking for.

Heartworm takes a while to fully mature, around 90-120 days. Heartworm parasites start out as larvae in the lungs. Depending on the size of the dog they are attacking, as the larvae reach full maturity and turn into worms where they can rest in certain arteries in the dog. For example, a beagle may have 10 worms in their system, whereas a larger dog like a lab can have as many as 50 or more. Regardless, the worms at maturity do migrate toward the heart, resting in ventricles until they take over the dog and eventually kill the animal or the dog gets treatment to kill and destroy the heartworm infection entirely.

Dogs will usually contract heartworm during the wet spring season when mosquitoes are maturing. The heartworm can take about 10-14 days to incubate and mature within 90-120 days after contracting the illness. Dogs usually wont show major symptoms of heartworm (like wheezing or coughing) until the larvae begin growing in their lungs before maturity.

If you live in a known mosquito area (heartworm is prevalent in all 50 states. Where there are mosquitoes there may be heartworm), then you would be wise to protect your dog against heartworm by keeping your dog medicated against the parasites and having your dog wear mosquito repellent when they are outdoors.

Preventing Ticks on Your Pets

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases. Vaccines are not available for all the tickborne diseases that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. For these reasons, it’s important to use a tick preventive product on your dog.

Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a tick.

To reduce the chances that a tick will transmit disease to you or your pets:

Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors.
If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away.
Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam.
Talk to your veterinarian about tickborne diseases in your area.
Reduce tick habitat in your yard.
Talk with your veterinarian about using tick preventives on your pet.

Kill Ticks on Dogs

A pesticide product that kills ticks is known as an acaricide. Acaricides that can be used on dogs include dusts, impregnated collars, sprays, or topical treatments. Some acaricides kill the tick on contact. Others may be absorbed into the bloodstream of a dog and kill ticks that attach and feed.

Pros:

Helps to reduce the number of ticks in the environment
Prevents tickborne disease

Cons:

Tick bites can cause a painful wound and may become infected.
When bitten, a dog may become infected with a number of diseases. This depends on the type of tick, which diseases it is carrying (if any), and how quickly a product kills the feeding tick.
Examples of topically applied products (active ingredients)

Fipronil

Pyrethroids (permethrin, etc.)

Amitraz

Repel Ticks on Dogs

A repellent product may prevent the tick from coming into contact with an animal at all or have anti-feeding effects once the tick comes into contact with the chemical, thus preventing a bite.

Pros:

Prevents bite wounds and possible resulting infections

Prevents tickborne disease

Cons:

Will not reduce the number of ticks in the environment (doesn’t kill ticks)

Examples of topically applied products (active ingredients):

Pyrethroids (permethrin, etc.)