As you read this article, you are probably feeling grateful for our beautiful Florida weather. This climate attracts people from all over the world but it is also a perfect environment for some unwanted visitors: mosquitos.
The year-round presence of mosquitos in Florida means that pets here are always at risk for contracting heartworms. The good news is that heartworm disease is completely preventable! All dogs & cats, even those taking preventive, can be infected with heartworm larvae every time a mosquito bites. The larvae slowly develop in the bloodstream. If the pet takes preventive, any larvae transmitted in the previous 30 days will die before they become adults. If the pet is not taking preventive, those larvae will have time to develop further and will migrate to the heart. The adults are approximately the size of spaghetti strands and can live for years, causing significant damage to the heart and blood vessels. If left untreated, this damage will eventually be fatal for the pet.
Once the worms are adults, preventive medication will not kill them. That's why it is essential to give preventive every single month. There is a treatment option to kill adults in dogs (not cats) but it is very expensive and carries risks for the dog. Prevention is much more affordable and much safer! It is one of the most important things to do for your pet as a Florida resident. Depending on the size of the pet and the selected product, prevention is available for $5-10 per month.
A common misconception is that primarily indoor dogs do not need prevention. Even though they may go outdoors for only a short time, mosquitos can bite them! We have also diagnosed heartworms in pets who have never stepped outdoors, presumably contracted from mosquitos who have gotten inside the home. There are lucky pets who do not take preventive and somehow remain negative but we have also diagnosed heartworms in patients who have only missed occasional doses of prevention. There is no way to know which mosquitos carry the larvae and which pets will be bitten.
We continue to diagnose heartworms multiple times each year, despite the wide availability of heartworm prevention. Owners are almost always surprised to learn that their pets are heartworm positive. We are hopeful that educating families to better understand the physiology of heartworm disease will lead to fewer cases and longer, happier lives! - Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa