Heartworm in dogs and cats continues to be a growing concern in the United States.
Unfortunately, many pet owners have misconceptions about the disease.
The FDA and the American Heartworm Society (AHS) are stepping up efforts to educate the public about the dangers of heart worm infection.
Unfortunately, a lot of the information circulating on the Internet is based on myths instead of the facts.
The top five common myths about heartworm in dogs and cats
Myth # 1: Only certain states have a heartworm problem
AHS tracks infections in all 50 states. It is true that some states have a smaller rate of infection. However, all 50 states have numerous cases of infected dogs, cats and other animals. The AHS and FDA both recommend preventatives to keep your dog safe from infection.
Myth # 2: Heartworm preventative treatment is only necessary during the summer months
In the United States, heartworms have spread to all 50 states. Due to climate changes, mosquitoes have spread to areas where they normally were not an issue. Today, the AHS recommends year-round preventative treatment in all areas in the United States including regions with cold winter months. Mosquito control is an issue in most states. Due to recent budget cut backs, many states have reduced efforts to control the mosquito population. This may lead to an increase in the numbers of mosquitoes, which in turn may increase the incidence of infections in unprotected pets.
Many veterinarians may still recommend treating your pet for at least six months of the year depending on the area. However, due to recommendations by the AHS, many veterinarians may change their recommendations as infections become more prevalent.
Myth # 3: Dogs infected with heart worms should be isolated to prevent spreading the disease
Heart worm larvae are transmitted by mosquitoes. If a dog is infected, the dog cannot transmit the worms to humans or other animals. Even though humans can be infected with larvae, the human body is not a viable host. The only time a dog would need to be isolated is when the dog is undergoing treatment. The procedure is painful and causes discomfort. The dog should be kept away from children and other pets to keep the dog from engaging in physical activity. In addition, the discomfort and distress of the treatment may cause the dog to become irritable and he could bite or snap at other pets and children in the household.
Myth # 4: Only dogs are susceptible to heartworm infections
Unfortunately, many animals are susceptible to heartworm infections including wild animals and cats. According to the AHS, infections in cats are on the rise in the United States. It is important to mention that indoor cats can be infected. Mosquitoes do enter the home and it only takes one mosquito bite to infect a pet. If you live in an area that is considered a “hot spot” it is important to visit your veterinarian to find out how you can protect your cat from infection even if your cat never steps a foot outdoors.
Myth #5: Heartworm in dogs and cats is easily treated
Sadly, the FDA has not approved a treatment that is safe and effective for cats. It is imperative for cat owners to keep outdoor and indoor cats on an effective, approved preventative. The current treatment for dogs is a difficult and expensive process. It is unfortunate that many pet owners do not understand that heart worm infection is on the rise in both cats and dogs. It is such a serious problem in the United States; the FDA has dedicated a section on their website to keep the public informed about the disease (the link will take you directly to the information pages).
Quick Facts from the American Heartworm Society:
- While most dogs may be infected with a few heart worms, an untreated dog can be infected with hundreds of worms. In some cases, dogs have had an infection of 250 worms.
- Heart worms can live up to six or seven years inside a dog’s heart before dying off. In addition, male and female worms will breed while inside the dog’s heart.
- In cats, heart worms typically live for three years. However, the worms will breed and continue to produce additional worms.
Heartworm in dogs and cats is a serious issue. If you want to keep your pet safe, your first step is to have a veterinarian examine your pet. If your pet is not on a preventative treatment, your veterinarian will have to test your pet prior to recommending a preventative medicine. Current preventative treatments are safe for both cats and dogs if recommendations are followed.