Pet Health & Safety

Preventing Heartworm Disease

0 Comments 27 October 2011

Preventing Heartworm Disease

For many parts of the country, especially the southern half, Mosquitoes are a year-long problem.  And they don’t just grace us with those red itchy bumps. Mosquitoes are carriers of heartworm which can infect our furry loved ones, especially dogs.

Heartworm is indeed a worm that develops in the heart and over time, if left untreated, causes death. The best approach to this awful disease is prevention. The last thing you and your dog want is a heartworm infection because the treatment, while usually successful depending on the severity of the infection, is expensive and has significant complications. There are a number of monthly medications you can give your dog that will prevent this problem from ever happening.

To ramp up awareness, the American Heartworm Society has enlisted help from New York Jets star running back LaDainian Tomlinson who has produced a public service announcement to remind pet owners that prevention is a lot easier than the cure. The PSA can be found at and it features Tomlinson with Kuddles, a recent survivor of a heartworm infection.

Kuddles is a Golden retriever and her owner, Kay Smith, one day noticed an ugly sore on the back of Kuddles’ neck. The sore looked like a bad mosquito bite but other than its unsightliness, Kuddles seemed no worse for the wear.  An eventual trip to the veterinarian’s office led to a discovery of stage two heartworm disease. In hindsight, Kay said she may have missed one of Kuddles’ monthly doses of heartworm prevention. The Chula Vista, CA resident is in a prime area for year round mosquitos, which means year round vigilance of heartworm prevention is an absolute must.

As it turns out, the medication to treat heartworm disease is not exactly in high supply.  Her case had to be reviewed by a heartworm specialist to see if Kuddles, who was six at the time of infection in June 2010, was even a candidate for the drug. Dr. Wallace Graham, president of the American Heartworm Society said problems with the drug are continuing.

“The drug approved for killing adult heartworm in dogs is unavailable,” he said. “That’s a serious problem,” he said noting that if your dog is diagnosed with heartworm there’s a good chance the veterinarian will not have the medicine, which is called Immiticide. The best medicine, Graham said, is prevention and preventative medication is relatively inexpensive (he compares it to one premium coffee a month) compared to Kuddles’ eventual $2,500 treatment.

Smith said the first six weeks of treatment were touch and go with Kuddles. Her whole hind quarters went down after the first treatment and Smith remembers that the expression in Kuddles’ eyes seemed to say, “What just happened to me?” The risk of treatment also includes death as a result of a large quantity of worms in the heart dying and moving into the lungs. Dogs infected with a smaller number of worms have a greater chance of success. Dogs undergoing the three-to-four month treatment need to be confined to a crate since exercise increases complication risks.

Graham said vigilance is key and pet parents, no matter their geographical location, should treat year-round, because the alternative is so drastic. Additionally, missing a dose exactly a month after the last dose of heartworm preventative medication is nothing to be alarmed about, however, there is only a window of a day or two to play with to ensure total and complete protection.

Indoor cats are starting to show heartworm infection and Graham said in his own practice, of the last six cats that tested positive, three were indoor cats.


- who has written 9 posts on Castor & Pollux Pet Works Blog.

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