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Facts and Myths about Heartworms

April 19, 2019
By: Friendship Veterinary Hospital

Many pet owners have heard of heartworms. However, there is so much information out there about this parasite that it can be difficult to determine which information is accurate and which could potentially lead to you putting your pet at risk.

To help you understand more about this disease and support you in keeping your pet as healthy as possible, here are some of the most common facts and myths surrounding heartworms.

MYTH: Heartworms only affect dogs

Although dogs are the most natural host for heartworms, they can also affect cats and ferrets. Therefore, prevention for these animals is still required.

MYTH: Symptoms of heartworms are easy to spot

Many people automatically assume that serious diseases such as heartworms automatically warrant serious symptoms. However, this is often not the case. Pets are good at masking illness and can successfully hide the fact that they are sick for months at a time. However, eventually they will reach a point where they are no longer able to hide the effect that the condition is having on their body. Common indicators of heartworms include:

  • A soft, persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Loss of interest in games and activities
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor coat quality
  • Unwillingness to exercise

FACT: It is impossible to tell if a dog has heartworms straight after infection

It takes around 6 months for microfilaria (heartworm larvae) to mature into adult worms. When your vet in Fort Walton Beach, FL tests for heartworms, he/she will be looking for specific antigens. These don’t get produced until the time the worms reach adulthood.

FACT: Heartworm preventatives should be given all year round

Pets don’t just need prevention against heartworms during the warmer months. Mosquitos are becoming hardier creatures and have been found living in cooler/cold months too. It also takes around six months for larvae to mature into adults and preventatives given during this time could stop this process.

MYTH: Animals living in mid or northern states in the U.S do not need heartworm prevention

This is invariably one of the most common misconceptions surrounding heartworm prevention. In the past, heartworms were thought to only be a risk to pets living in the South where mosquitos are more prevalent. However, studies have shown that mosquitos have been found living in all states and since it is impossible to determine which mosquitos are carriers of heartworms and which aren’t, it is strongly advised that all pets are protected from heartworm disease regardless of where they live.

FACT: Although there are strategies that owners can put in place to reduce the likelihood that their pet will be affected by heartworms, there is no truly ‘natural’ heartworm preventative

Some owners dislike the prospect of giving their pet preventatives that aren’t completely organic and instead, they advocate the use of alternatives which are derived from natural ingredients. Unfortunately, the truth is that there is no substitute for the years of veterinary research that has gone into creating medications that are designed specifically to protect animals from heartworms and must receive approval from the necessary authorities before they can be rolled out to the population. Therefore, you can rest assured that the preventative given to your pet will have been thoroughly tested to ensure its safety.

FACT: If you don’t seek prompt treatment, your pet could die

Heartworms have been shown to be a potentially deadly disease. As the number of worms in your pet’s body grows, it compromises the function of her bodily systems and major organs. The arteries and blood vessels become clogged, making it difficult for oxygen to get around to the lungs, heart, kidney, liver and more. Eventually, the number of worms could become so great that your pet will be left with irreversible damage to her body, leading to organ failure and premature death.

MYTH: Heartworm preventatives are expensive

Most owners choose to pay monthly for their pet’s heartworm preventative, which usually comes in at less than $20 – a bargain when you consider that the cost of treating a heartworm infection can run into thousands!

If you would like more information about heartworms and preventative care, or if you would like to schedule an appointment for your pet to be assessed by our knowledgeable veterinary team, please contact our veterinary hospital in Fort Walton Beach, FL today by calling 850-810-0700.