One of the advantages of living in Florida is our availability to warm weather. When our friends are digging their driveways out from under two feet of snow, we are deciding if we need a long-sleeved or short-sleeved shirt.
Mosquitoes have learned this information over the years, and they aren’t leaving anytime soon. They are the carrier of the infective stage of Difilaria immitis, which causes heartworm disease. This is a major problem for dogs and in Florida; luckily for them, it is easily prevented.
How do I stop my pets from getting heartworm disease?
There are numerous medications available that protect pets from heartworm disease. There are topical and oral medications that are given monthly. Some have another product in them that will protect against fleas. Usually these products cost around $6 to $8 a month and are very effective.
Why do I need to have my dog tested for heartworm disease yearly when she is already on heartworm prevention?
No medication is 100 percent effective, and there are no clinical signs when a dog first gets heartworm disease. It is important to treat heartworm disease early. The airways of the lungs will undergo a change called pulmonary hypertension, which is irreversible. The sooner you treat the disease, the sooner it will stop it’s progression.
My pet has heartworm disease. What are her treatment options?
There is only one treatment that is recommended by the American Heartworm Disease Association. Your pet needs to have radiographs done of the chest to evaluate the condition of the lungs and a lab work evaluation to assess her capability of doing well with therapy. The treatment involves two to three injections of an arsenic compound, depending on what your veterinarian deems appropriate. Another treatment that is discussed is the “slow kill” method. This option is not recommended by many cardiologists due to the unreliability of treatment and the pulmonary hypertension that develops.
Should my cat be on heartworm medication?
Cats are not the normal host for this parasite, so it is harder for them to get it. Cats’ lungs, however, are very sensitive to the parasite, and there is a syndrome of acute death associated with it. The University of Florida’s school of veterinary medicine did a study to find that 5 percent of tested cats were positive for heartworms. This a high enough percentage to warrant that all cats be on prevention. Inside cats are less likely to get the disease, but I have diagnosed inside cats with heartworm disease. The newer medications are topical for cats, making them much easier to treat, and most of them have flea prevention in them.
In summary, heartworm disease is very common in Florida and the prevention is reasonably priced and easy to use. The treatment for the disease is rough on pets and expensive for you. All dogs and cats in Florida would benefit from being on heartworm prevention.
Dr. Wade Matthews of Animal Hospital of Dunedin received his DVM from the University of Florida in 1984 and his BS with honors in Animal Science from the University of Florida. He is also active in continuing education.