April is Heartworm Prevention Month
We all want the best for our Labradors, and that means keeping them happy and healthy and protecting them from disease. One disease that is on the rise in the US and that is totally preventable is Heartworm disease (HWD).
Did you know that heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states? Did you know that the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org) recommends year round prevention in all states in order to improve compliance and to prevent other parasitic infections (intestinal worms, etc.)?
With all this talk about the importance of prevention, sometimes we forget to talk about how HWD is spread, and what it means for your dog if they do become infected.
It just takes one infected mosquito biting your Labrador to transmit disease.
Heartworm disease is spread via mosquitoes. Once an infected larva has entered the body, they migrate over several months until they reach the heart and lungs. Here, they mature to up to over 1 ft long! Because of this migration period, the dog may test negative for HWD for 4-6 months after infection. This is the reason why your veterinarian will want to re-test 6 months after a missed dose.
Because early in the course of the disease, dogs are asymptomatic, your Lab should be tested each year. Even if you are giving prevention monthly! People forget, dogs vomit in the yard without us knowing… things happen. The earlier we can catch the disease, the earlier we can treat, and therefore we can prevent ongoing, irreversible lung and heart damage.
In advanced stages, K9s present with coughing, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, fluid in the abdomen due to heart failure, and ultimately death. That’s one thing a lot of people forget about HWD; without treatment, it is fatal.
So, if we have a treatment, why is it so important to prevent the disease? Well, for one thing, those preventives are MUCH more cost effective than treatment (usually around $700-1000 with treatment and diagnostics), and for another, they are MUCH easier on your dog.
There is only one approved treatment for adult heartworms in dogs and that is Immiticide®. Other methods, such as putting positive Labbies on long-term preventives are not recommended due to concerns over both long-term damage to the dogs heart and lungs while the worms remain (usually 2-3 years), and due to concerns about drug resistance.
The current recommended treatment protocol takes about 4 months, and the patient (Your Lab) has to be exercise restricted that entire time to prevent complications.
Can you imaging keeping your Labby crated and calm for 4 months?! That’s no fun for anyone!
Almost 300,000 dogs infected with HWD in the US each year. The good news is that with proper prevention, your Labrador doesn’t have to be one of them
Dr. Erin Horner, DVM graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 and then went on to obtain her DVM in 2008. She is currently an associate veterinarian at Brookhaven Animal Hospital