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Ask a vet: Heartworms threaten pets' health

POSTED: May 25, 2014 1:00 a.m.

It’s like a bad horror movie. Worms! In your heart!

And to make it even worse, they’re spread by mosquitoes. It’s just gross on top of gross.

But for pets that live in most of the world, heartworm is a significant health threat. Dogs are the main host of the worm, but cats can get it, too. In fact, cats are more likely to suddenly die from heartworms.

So how do we get rid of this worm?

Well, we can’t. Unless we get rid of every single mosquito, and that’s unlikely. So we kill the worm when it gets into our pet.

The veterinary pharmaceutical industry is laden with products that do this.

You may be surprised to learn none of the preventive medicines really keep the worm out. They kill the larval form of the worm before it can grow into an adult. That’s why regular heartworm prevention is so essential. Being protected in May doesn’t mean you can’t get bitten by the wrong mosquito in June. And unless every source of water is frozen solid, you can still have mosquito exposure. So year-round prevention is necessary.

Take heart, though, you get massive benefits. Your pet is protected. Preventive medication is much cheaper and easier on the dog than treating adult worm infestation.

Most heartworm preventives protect your pet against the most common intestinal worms. The two most common intestinal worms of pets can sometimes cause disease in humans. So you’re protecting your human family, too.

However, one heartworm preventive glosses over the intestinal protection issue. It gives six months of heartworm protection in one injection. But the intestinal parasite prevention is nowhere near as long. This isn’t commonly explained to owners. I offer the medication, but make sure the owner knows the drawbacks along with the benefit. If remembering the monthly pill is too difficult, then the injection is our best option.

Knowledge is power for worms as well.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at mattsisk2003@yahoo.com.


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