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Written by Megan McCorkle, LVT

Did you know that mosquitoes are able to transmit worms? Hard to believe that such a small insect can actually transmit worms to other animals including dogs!

As a veterinary professional for over a decade I’ve commonly heard pet owners express, “My dog is just old and doesn’t need monthly preventions anymore.” The fact is, preventions work no matter the age of the dog. Why would a prevention not be as important to them as a younger healthy animal? And why wouldn't you want to continue to keep your pet safe from a disease that is 100% preventable?

Heartworms are just that – worms that grow and develop in the heart and cardiovascular system of the patient. The heart is only the most vital organ for life; imagine the devastation worms could cause. Now imagine if the patient was elderly and already had a compromised cardiovascular system. As our pets age the heart muscle weakens making any additional disease that much more devastating.

Mosquitoes do not discriminate by the age of their victim. They are merely a vector for this life threatening disease. Just as many older dogs are affected by this disease as young dogs.

Here are the startling statistics!

1 in 200 dogs will contract heartworm disease each year. The chances of you developing cancer is the same chances your dog could contract heartworm disease.

A common scenario we see is when a patient walks into our exam room wagging her tail and appearing perfectly normal from observation. The pet parent has brought her in today for her senior exam as she is now 8 years old. Her history includes a new cough that is infrequent, and she may be a little more tired, but the pet parent believes this is due to age. She has a good appetite and seems to be eliminating normally. Her physical exam is unremarkable. One of the recommended health screenings is a heartworm test.

She is heartworm positive. This means she has worms in her bloodstream and adults reproducing at this time. The pet parent cannot understand how this could happen as she is mostly indoors and has had no symptoms.

This is a classic situation we see in veterinary clinics across the country. In fact, there is incidence of heartworm disease in dogs in all 50 states currently. According to the American Heartworm society 7 in 10 mosquitoes carry heartworms thereby increasing the risk of healthy dogs contracting this disease if they are not protected by a prevention regimen. Due to irregularity of seasonal temperatures and mosquito’s life cycles all dogs are susceptible to this disease.

The common signs of heartworm disease can easily be missed by the pet parent.

They include but are not limited to:

A cough or wheezing (could be mild or severe)

Increased respiratory effort

Lethargy- sleeping more, unwillingness to play,

Tired with exercise

Decreased appetite (in progressed cases)

These symptoms are also inclusive for other illness in dogs and often overlooked early on. These can be mild or severe in nature and all should be addressed by a veterinarian to get to the root cause. With heartworm disease treatment can be extremely difficult even for the young otherwise healthy dogs but our senior dogs can see more severe side effects and death if progressed disease is present.

Know that 1 in 10 dogs will develop some form of heart disease as they age. Aging naturally causes organs and systems to deteriorate. Some can be managed under veterinary care if caught early. Why add insult to injury by allowing the pet to contract heartworm disease?

Preventions are available through your veterinarian. There are oral tablets or chews, topicals, and even injectable options to suit each pet and pet parent’s needs. Remember this disease is 100 % preventable.

The best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention no matter your pet’s age! Speak to your veterinarian today to begin protecting your loved ones youthful or matured!


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