Heartworm: Year-Round Prevention for Dogs in Massachusetts?

heartworm-preventionMost pet owners understand the importance of protecting their dogs from heartworm, especially in the warm and humid days of summer. Preventing heartworm through mosquito control and prevention treatments with annual testing is just part of good dog ownership, but the debate is on whether or not northeastern pets should be on prevention treatments year-round or just from May through October.

What is Heartworm Disease?
A tiny parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria immitis is the cause of the disease known as heartworm. It is a very serious condition, in which the parasite lives in the blood vessels and heart of pets who get infected. The parasite is spread by mosquitoes who can bite a dog who has heartworm and then bite another dog, spreading the offspring of the Dirofilaria immitis in the process. Once inside the new host, the heartworm can grow into a very large parasite, up to an entire foot in length. Because it is so large, damage can be done within the dog’s lungs, arteries and heart. This is why the best heartworm treatment for dogs is local mosquito control and prevention through regular veterinary check-ups at your local animal hospital in Dartmouth.

What are Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?
Some of the symptoms that are seen in dogs who have been infected include: coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, fainting, lethargy and vomiting. Unfortunately, these symptoms can also easily be associated with other common diseases that affect dogs, so it can be difficult to diagnose by symptom alone. A blood test is usually required during a veterinary check-up to confirm a suspected diagnosis. There are treatments available if your dog tests positive for heartworm, but the best treatment is done in advance, through mosquito control and prevention.

Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases to Consider
In addition to heartworm, mosquitoes are known to spread lots of other diseases that can affect both you and your dog. While most people immediately think about West Nile Virus, which has received a lot of attention in the media in recent years, there are other diseases that must be considered. Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) are considered to be very rare in dogs, however they are also spread in the same way, making mosquito control and prevention, along with regular veterinary check-ups at your local animal hospital in Dartmouth, very important.

How to Control Mosquitoes in Massachusetts
While no preventative measure for mosquito treatment is one hundred percent, especially in areas where there are ponds, creeks, rivers and streams or places where there is a chance of standing water, there are things you can do to help reduce the risk. Keeping your pet indoors as much as possible during mosquito season will help. It is important to know when this is in your local environment. Controlling the mosquito population is the best method, which will ultimately minimize risk for you, your family and your pets.

  • Stagnant water is where mosquitoes breed and thrive – check around your home and property to ensure that you don’t have standing water.
  • Change your pet’s water bowl frequently, especially if you provide water outdoors.
  • Stay away from wetland areas and definitely don’t walk your dog anywhere that stagnant water might be present.
  • Check your home’s windows and screens to prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors.
  • Consider using citronella candles around your backyard or any area that your dog likes to play during the warmer months.
  • Avoid outdoor play and walks in the early evening and early morning hours. This is when mosquitoes are most active. Reducing exposure will reduce bites.

Be careful about using insect repellants – even brands that claim to be made for pets. Check with your veterinarian at Anchor Animal Hospital in Dartmouth before using any of these products. Testing for safety and effectiveness of products made with essential oils have not been properly conducted to date and products that contain DEET should not be used on pets. Make sure to talk about this at your next veterinary check-up if you have questions or concerns about mosquito control and prevention.

Heartworm Treatment for Dogs
The best treatment available for dogs is to use a prevention program. Before your dog can start taking any brand of heartworm treatment, a blood test must be conducted first. This is very important. Heartworm disease must be ruled out before a preventative heartworm treatment for dogs can be given. While treatments are available over the counter, you should never start any heartworm treatment without the direction and supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

If your dog does get bitten by a mosquito, whether he is on heartworm treatment for dogs or not, you should still treat the bites whenever you see them. Use an antibacterial cream to prevent infection and consult with your local animal hospital in Dartmouth if the bites appear to get worse or do not heal. Through mosquito control and prevention, awareness and knowledge of where and how mosquitoes breed, pet owners will be able to do all they can to prevent heartworm disease and other mosquito-borne diseases from affecting their dogs.

When Should Heartworm Treatment Be Given?
This is the debate. Some veterinarians believe that treatment should only be given from May through October, the typical “season” for mosquitoes in Southeastern Massachusetts. However, other veterinarians believe that heartworm treatment for dogs should be a year-round prescription to ensure that there is no chance of exposure during early springs, late warm falls and other potential weather changes.

The best way to decide is to ask your vet at your next veterinary check-up. If you don’t have one schedule before spring, make sure to call in and make an appointment. Heartworm treatment for dogs is very important, along with mosquito control and prevention, as a means of protecting your pets and loved ones from diseases that are commonly spread by mosquitoes. For more tips and ideas, speak with your trusted veterinarian team at Anchor Animal Hospital in Dartmouth.