May is Parasite Prevention Month
May is Parasite Prevention Month at the Clark Fork Veterinary Clinic. This year we are focusing on heartworms. Unfortunately, they are being diagnosed in dogs that have never left the state, telling us heartworms are here whether we like it or not. This means we will need to be more aware of them, the disease they cause, prevention and treatment.
Heartworms are worms that may grow up to a foot long and live in our dog and cats’ hearts, blood vessels and lungs. Mosquitoes transmit heartworms. A mosquito bites an affected animal, acquires the tiny larval worms and then bites another animal, which transfers the larval worms to the new animal’s bloodstream. These tiny worms then become adults and cause severe disease. Unfortunately, we can’t eradicate mosquitoes, so the best we can do is protect our dogs and cats.
Symptoms of heartworm infection can take years to develop. When the worms are tiny, there are no clinical signs even though there is damage occurring. Once the worms get large, symptoms in our animals include: coughing, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, and weight loss. The worms can also cause blockages of blood flow leading to sudden death.
Dogs (including coyotes and wolves) are the main host for heartworms but cats can also be affected. Dogs can have hundreds of adult heartworms, which cause severe damage to their bodies. In contrast, cats usually only have immature worms or a few that progress to adult worms. These immature worms can still cause lots of damage, however they are harder to test for.
Prevention is key to this disease. Testing and finding the disease sooner will lead to better outcome (if the worms are smaller they are easier to treat). We perform a simple blood test to screen for the adult worms in our dogs. If the test is negative, we start them on a monthly preventative for the year (this preventative kills the larval stages of the worm). Then, we retest annually to make sure the preventative is doing its job. Puppies under 6 months of age can be started on preventative without the initial test. If the dog tests positive we confirm that with another test. Treatment depends on severity of disease but can include keeping the dog restricted in exercise, surgery to remove some worms, injectable medications, and hospitalization/stabilization. Cats are more difficult to diagnose as they usually don’t have adult worms. As a result, we may need to send out their blood samples for further testing. Unfortunately, there is no medication treatment available for cats. If diagnosed, we keep them comfortable and try to eliminate symptoms.
For the month of May we are offering 10% off fecal floats of all species (screens for internal parasites like roundworms and tapeworms) and heartworm testing with purchase of 6 months of preventive. Schedule today!
Thanks, Dr. Betsy Price