Every year, veterinarians brace for a disease that has plagued our pets for many years. Yet this affliction is easily avoidable with affordable and safe prescription drugs. Episodes of  Heartworms in both dogs and cats continue to escalate and also the cost for treatment of (when diagnosed quick enough) is much larger that the expenditure to prevent. Therefore, how could you offer protection to your furry friend from the fatal effects of this now prevalent parasite?

Flash back to 150 years ago when a researcher first discovered the heartworm parasite in a dog. Then the parasite evolved and was then detected inside our cats 80 years ago. Even though heartworm prevention is available for both cats and dogs you would think that we would experience a decrease in the sheer numbers of cases, still each year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed and sometimes die too soon from this dreaded parasite. Several authorities estimate that in North America alone, cases of heartworms in our pets could possibly be in the millions.

The disease caused by this heartworm residing inside of your pet’s heart is disastrous. Your pet could be infected from the one-time bite of  just one mosquito. The worm will then migrate through your pet’s entire body eventually taking up residence in your pet’s heart chamber and the blood vessels leading to the lungs. This results in your pet’s heart having to pump harder to circulate the blood through his tiny body. The effects to the lungs is far more critical with some pets gasping for breath because the lungs fill with fluid and tiny blood clots clog the vessels. Early symptoms include coughing and exercise intolerance that some owners just attribute to the dog getting lazy. Frequently, symptoms do not surface until the disease is well advanced and the dog is fighting with heart failure, fluid accumulation in the lungs and abdomen which often can subsequently result in death.

In cats, it only takes one heartworm to result in harm. The early signs are asthma like symptoms and in some cases vomiting that the owners can attribute to hairballs. If that heartworm lodges in the lungs, it can lead to a sudden death of the cat.

Treatment for heartworms is pricey ranging from $500 for the smaller sized dogs, to upwards of $1500 for the bigger breeds. Complicated heartworm disease with cardiac failure is much more expensive and sometimes there is only a 10% chance of recovery in the severely affected pets. As of yet, there is no remedy for cat heartworm disease, just supportive care.

Amazingly, veterinarians do have a solution for this problem. Safe, effective heartworm preventatives are available in many different simple to use applications. What is even more incredible is that the cost of a lifetime of prevention for many pets is considerably less that the single treatment for the disease. So, why do pets continue to suffer and die from such a preventable ailment?

As with all cyberspace misguided beliefs, two radical hypotheses suggest that either the heartworm medications are failing or that the parasites are developing a resistance to the medicines. While conspiracy theorists love these types of ideas, medical evidence for either hypothesis is absent. Heartworm preventives have a failure rate of less than 1 in 1 million doses. Moreover, the complex life cycle of the heartworm does not lend itself to developing a natural resistance to the drugs. The truth perhaps lies in the memory of the owner to administer the dose in a timely fashion and the global temperature.

Rising temperatures in our climate has led to a lengthier mosquito season and a larger likelihood of transmission to our pets. Here in Houston, our mosquito season is all year round. Some regions are presently finding more mosquitoes in previously mosquito-free locations. Irrigation of dry areas and increased plantings of trees in certain areas can in fact expand mosquito population. With a greater number of mosquitoes, there is a higher possibility of transmission of heartworm disease.

When all the facts are examined, the most obvious reason behind our failure to control this fatal parasite rests on the humans themselves. We simply do not give the preventive as we really should. It could be as a result of forgetfulness, or possibly one husband or wife believed the other one gave it or perhaps it may be because of the economic conditions along with the monetary constraints imposed on the family. Regardless of the rationale could possibly be, it can lead to dire implications for the health of our pets.

Fortunately, as pet lovers, you do have powerful allies to help you battle the war against heartworms. Through the help of your veterinarian, you’ll be able to find the most effective heartworm medication for your pet and your price range. Oral medications, for example Heartgard, Sentinel, and Iverhart can be purchased. There are also topical medications for instance Advantage-Multi and Revolution that are formulated to also provide protection to your pet from both heartworms and fleas. Proheart 6 is also available as a long lasting injection. The prevention of this disease rests entirely on the pet’s owners to make sure the pet will get the prevention before the pet might be exposed to the parasite. That means that this prevention should start in puppy-hood and be given monthly, throughout the year.

Do not waste time attempting to find “natural” or organic methods to protect against heartworms; they just do not exist. Many people believe they can formulate ivermectin to give to their pets, but incorrect dilution and storage can lead to overdosing or underdosing. Abide by advice by your veterinarian and the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org) Your pet is relying on you and prevention is much better and cheaper than the treatment.

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