What is heartworm and what does it cause?
Heartworm is a serious and potentially deadly parasite that takes the form of worms the size of hairs. This parasite can infect over 30 species of animal but is most commonly known to be hosted by dogs. The presence of these worms stimulates an inflammatory response which causes damage to the cardiopulmonary system,blood clotting when you don’t want it and increased strain on the heart due to blood vessel damage.
How does your dog or cat get it ?
Heartworm requires the mosquito (the main transmitter of this disease) to act as an incubator. The mosquito ingests larvae from an infected animal (at just the right time) and then the larvae actually mature within the mosquito. The mosquito can then pass the infective larvae into a new host, whether it is a dog, cat or other wildlife, when it feeds. If the larvae survive your dog’s immune system they then move throughout the animals bloodstream lodging in the arteries of the heart and lungs where they mature into the destructive worms. This takes @5-7 months.
How to treat your dog with heart worm ?
The first thing to know is that many dogs with a healthy immune system can kill the larvae themselves with no outside intervention. That is NOT to say that mature Heartworms left unchecked won’t hurt your dog. Left untreated, adult worms are life threatening. Heartworm is treatable and has a very high survival rate if caught and treated early. The problem is that the early stages of the disease have no outward symptoms to alert a pet parent that anything is wrong. In Ontario the infectious season (limited to consistently warm temperatures) is only a few months a year. This means that testing regularly at the end of winter should allow most cases to be identified relatively early and ensure successful treatment.
How can I prevent Heartworm ?
Since it is also present in many wild animals, it is nearly impossible to fully control or eradicate this disease; but responsible dog and cat owners can help to decrease the prevalence of heartworm through awareness and proper prevention. In fact the first 4 steps represent excellent action against many parasites and diseases affecting both our pets and us.
1) Remove standing water and other mosquito breeding grounds and attractants.
2) Use devices that attract and kill Mosquitos interrupting their breeding cycle.
3) Use /apply deterrents like citronella plants and sprays (labelled child and pet friendly).
4) Reduce the time spent outside in the evening and at night when Mosquitos are most active.
5) Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle to optimize the bodies own immune system.
6) Preventative medication – there are many products that can be prescribed to kill the larvae of the Heartworm. These products have to be taken regularly during the season when the larvae can be introduced to your pet’s bloodstream. I.e mosquito season. It should be noted that once these medications are taken – they prevent the identification of existing adult heart worms until an advanced infestation begins to show symptoms, these preventative meds also have no detrimental effects on those existing adult heart worms. In a recent study of positively identified Heartworm cases in Ontario, 14% had been on preventative medication during the infective season. For that reason you still need to test annually to ensure timely intervention.
Is Heartworm really a problem in Ontario ?
Well that is a really good questiion. Is there a number of families affected or a saturation point where we decide it’s a problem ? The term endemic has been used to describe Heartworm prevalence in Southern Ontario, in the region defined by Guelph in the west, Fort Erie in the east and Toronto/Simcoe in the North.
Having said that their were 461 positive cases of Heartworm in Dogs and 3 in Cats in 2010. That is up since 2002. Many would point out that number isn’t necessarily high, but I’m pretty sure that to the 461 families involved – 1 was too many. It needs to be noted that the infectious season in Ontario is very short. A cool summer like we had in 2014, shortens it even more. The Heartworm cannot continue to breed in your dog. It needs the mosquito as an incubator. Therefore the heart worms will expire at the end of their lifetime unless your dog is unfortunate enough to be reinfected the following season when it warms up again. Many say that because of the many factors needed to achieve transmission of the parasite, the odds of contracting are low. The decision to go to step 4 of prevention is a personal one that should be discussed with your veterinarian, who can advise you of the prevalence in your area and of the risk factors particular to your dog. Every dog is different and choosing to skip preventative medication should always be made in consultation with your licensed health care professional.
Do I need to worry about Heartworm when Dog Boarding Barrie or Dog Boarding Toronto area ?
The risks of contracting Heartworm while dog boarding are no greater than when your dog is at home and on a walk with yourself or sunning in their backyard.
Dog Boarding in Barrie is at the edge of the area defined by the 2010 study and in fact the night time temperatures are often that fraction lower during the season making the conditions less than optimal. In addition when Dog Boarding Barrie, Dog Boarding Toronto area, reputable professional facilities should be located to minimize risk (industrial areas are not necessarily lower risk) and be practicing preventative measures if only just to ensure the comfort of your dog, let alone the safety. Don’t be afraid to ask when touring a pet care facility, “what is the incidence and how do you reduce Mosquitos”?
We hope this has provided a well rounded and factual account of Heartworm in Dogs, the risks of Heartworm while Dog Boarding Barrie, Dog Boarding Toronto area and some preventative advice for pet parents.