Nobody likes mosquitoes. Their bites can hurt and they can swell and itch. When mosquitoes bite our pets, however, they can cause more serious problems. We’re talking heartworms.
Aleksandar Besermenji, a veterinarian at Franklinton Animal Hospital talked with Bill Harris about the importance of keeping our dogs and cats – and ferrets – on a heartworm regimen. “The whole point is to check them every year with the test,” Besermenji said. “If you catch it in time, you can do more to fix it.”
Mosquitoes are the vector – or the way – that dogs, cats and ferrets – can be exposed to the disease. All it takes is one mosquito to bite an animal with the disease to infect other animals that are not on heartworm preventive medication.
The best way to keep our pets testing negative for the disease is to give them the medication all year long, he said. It’s true that mosquitoes aren’t around in the winter, but Besermenji said owners shouldn’t take a break from giving the medication.
“Takes a certain period of time for the heartworms to develop” in the animal, he said, adding that it could take several weeks to several months. A mosquito bite from the fall could result in a heartworm positive test in the winter if the animal isn’t protected with the preventive.
“There’s a long list that goes with the heartworm problems,” he said. If left untreated, animals can develop inflammation as the parasitic worms grow in the arteries of the lungs and heart.
While there are treatment options for a dog that tests positive for heartworms, the simplest way to ensure animals stay healthy is to keep them on the preventive medicine.
And while it’s true that cats don’t get it that often, he said, they can. And so can ferrets. Cats don’t tolerate the injections as well as dogs, so their treatment is a little more specialized.
Your veterinarian should perform an annual test to make sure your pet is free of heartworms. Some symptoms of heartworm include coughing in the morning, shortness of breath and general poor performance, especially in working animals like hunting dogs.
In the most severe stages of the disease, animals suffer from distended bellies and accumulated abdominal fluid. After a prolonged period without treatment, the heart simply is too weak to respond effectively to treatment.
The Franklinton Animal Hospital, now is in its third week of operation, is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 noon.