Early fall can be a welcome break from the downsides of summer, such as having fewer biting bugs in our yards. For the sake of our dogs (and sometimes cats) we need to remember that mosquitos are not gone during the nice fall months.
Many people have heard of heartworms but are unaware of how heartworms are spread. These are internal parasites that can infect our pets, cause disease in their heart and lungs, and the only way a pet can get infected is through a mosquito bite. If heartworm disease is left undetected and untreated it can be fatal, which is why vets try so hard to prevent it.
A common misconception we hear from owners is their pet stays inside so they are not exposed to mosquitos. Even indoor dogs are exposed to some mosquitos when outside for bathroom breaks or when the tiny pests fly into our homes. Until the daytime high temperature is averaging below 50 degrees, mosquitos are still out and active. In our area, this means they can be around into early November, depending on the weather.
Another frequent misconception is that a dose of heartworm prevention will provide protection in the future month. The truth is, when you give heartworm medication, you are treating infections from the prior month and not the upcoming month. This means when you give your dog a dose on Oct. 1, you are preventing infection from September’s mosquito bites.
The last heartworm myth we hear often is that an owner uses an over-the-counter medication for fleas and ticks which they believe prevents heartworm disease as well. By law, all heartworm preventatives are a prescription product and can only be sold to owners with approval from their veterinarian. This means over the counter medication from a store does not prevent heartworm disease. Thankfully, owners do have many safe options to help prevent heartworm infections including monthly chewable tablets, monthly topical liquid for the skin, and even a once a year injection given at the veterinary clinic. Which preventative works for your personal pet is best discussed with your family veterinarian.
In our practice, we do not find heartworms in dogs every day, but we still see several cases a year in our area and more cases may go undiagnosed. As the weather gets cooler, our pets should get to enjoy the outdoor fun too. Just make sure you keep them safe while they get to play. In this area of the country, veterinarians recommend staying on year round heartworm prevention to ensure there is no risk of infection for your pet. More information is available from the American Heartworm Society at www.heartwormsociety.org