April is National Heartworm Awareness month, but not every dog owner is well versed in the potentially deadly parasite. It’s only transmitted by mosquitos, which pick up larval heartworms — called microfilaria — circulating in the bloodstream of an infected animal. Dogs with heartworm can be treated, but the best approach to the parasite is prevention.
Here at the AKC, the health and wellness of dogs is engrained in our mission. To help owners protect their pups, we talked to our Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, who gave us these five things to remember:
1. The American Heartworm Society and many veterinarians recommend year-round preventative medication due to it being found in all 50 states.
While the prevalence of heartworm historically has been high in the South, the American Heartworm Society reports that it’s on the rise throughout the U.S. This increase includes regions that were once considered “non-endemic.” Even if you don’t live in an area where heartworm is prominent, you still want to talk to your veterinarian about preventative medication for your dog.
2. Heartworm disease can cause lasting damage to the heart, which can affect a dog’s health and quality of life — just one of many reasons to have your dog on preventative medication.
Heartworms mature after six months and can live in your dog’s body for seven years, constantly producing offspring. After about a year, a dog may harbor hundreds of these worms, although the average is 15. The worms cause inflammation and damage to the heart, arteries, and lungs.
3. Heartworm preventative medication can only be obtained from a veterinarian or with a veterinarian’s prescription through a pet pharmacy, so start the conversation early.
There are many different preventatives available, some that are chewable, some that are topical, and some that also prevent other parasites. Talk to your veterinarian about which preventative is right for you and your dog.
4. Certain heartworm preventative medications can protect against many intestinal parasites.
Again, certain preventatives can protect against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, fleas, and tapeworms. Your veterinarian will know the differences between the types of preventatives and can help you choose the right one.
5. The recommendation from the American Heartworm Society is to have all dogs tested for heartworm every 12 months, even those already on heartworm preventative medication.
Have your veterinarian test your dog for heartworm during your annual visit.