Both dogs and cats can contract heartworm disease. Most commonly found in our canine friends, it is dangerous, expensive and difficult to treat. However the problem is easily avoided if one of the three forms of preventative heartworm medicines are used. Heartworm pills, topical heartworm spot on treatments and even a heartworm injection are now widely available, so keeping our pets safe should be straightforward.
How do Heartworm Preventatives Work?
Heartworm pills and topical treatments work by destroying all larval heartworms in the animal's bloodstream. To be effective they must be given every thirty days (or every day for daily heartworm pills).
Heartworm disease is caused when larval worms mature into adults, congregating in the organs to breed. Their heavy concentration in the heart, lungs and sometimes other organs causes serious organ damage. In addition their numbers can physically block important arteries. On top of this the tiny new generation of heartworms are released into the circulatory system in such vast numbers they may block smaller blood vessels too.
Preventative heartworm medicines do not stop your pet from becoming host to larval heartworms. This is impossible, as the larvae are passed to the bloodstream of dogs and cats via an infected mosquito bite. Instead, heartworm medications destroy these young larval worms before they are able to do any damage.
To get the best results from any heartworm medication, regular treatment is essential. As the larvae mature, any preventative is less efficient at destroying them totally. Monthly treatments should be given every thirty days. Then, the most mature worm they need to destroy is less than a month old, which they can do with 100% efficiency.
Combining Parasite Control with Heartworm Medication
To make preventing our pets contracting other parasites easier, many heartworm medications also target fleas, lice and intestinal parasites too. Reducing the number of medications we need to give our pets makes life easier for them and us too. Using a total parasite preventative such as Advantage Multi can save time and money, by replacing separate flea drops, heartworm medicine and an intestinal de-worming product into one simple topical treatment.
Important Points About Heartworm Medicine
- Before starting a course of heartworm medicine, your pet should first be checked by the vet. They will determine if the animal already has heartworm disease, in which case they will need to remain under veterinary supervision to clear the infection before using preventatives. This test should be repeated every spring.
- When changing from one brand of preventative to another, always ensure the new product is given thirty days after the last old treatment (or one day after, if switching to a daily heartworm pill).
- Cat's are much more sensitive to certain parasiticides than dogs, so their heartworm medications are different. Never use a medicine designed for dogs on your cat.
- Heartworm medicines come in different doses depending on the size of your pet. Never use a dose designed for a larger animal.
- Only one preventative heartworm medication should be used at a time.
- Although heartworm pills and spot on treatments have an extremely good safety record, always check with your vet before starting to treat a chronically ill or underweight animal.
- Pregnant and nursing animals may be treated with some varieties of preventative but not others, so check the label.
- If you forget a monthly treatment, administer it as soon as you remember. Do not 'double dose'. Simply start your pet's new regime from the new date, repeating every 30 days. If two months or more have elapsed between treatments speak to your vet about a heartworm test for your pet.
Choosing Heartworm Medicine
All pet medicines labelled as heartworm preventatives contain one of four active ingredients. All offer the same guaranteed prevention of the disease when used correctly. So whether you choose heartworm pills or a topical spot on product is primarily a matter of personal preference. Generic products offer the same level of protection as the branded versions.
If you are really worried about forgetting a treatment speak to your vet about the heartworm injection. There have been health concerns in the past, but it is widely used in Europe and Australia with no reported problems and has been recently reintroduced in the US.
There are spot on flea treatments, such as K9 Avantix which deter mosquitoes biting our dogs. These will reduce the chance of your pet contracting heartworms but will not guarantee they do not get the disease. The only way to prevent the disease is to regularly destroy all the larvae picked up, by using a properly labelled heartworm medicine.