Weakened and pale, the dog labors to breathe, because hundreds of foot-long worms are blocking the blood flow through their heart. The worms have been growing and breeding for a while, and they now threaten to end the dog’s life.

This scenario is real for too many dogs in our state. In 2013, Alabama reported the most heartworm-positive dogs of any U.S. state. According to the latest numbers released by the American Heartworm Society for 2019, Alabama still ranked in the top five  for the number of heartworm-positive dogs at number five. Town & Country Animal Hospital wants our state’s heartworm ranking to drop much lower. Read on to learn about heartworm disease and the many convenient, affordable, and safe options that make prevention simple.

Mosquitoes transmit heartworms to your pet

Adult heartworms are parasites that live in the bloodstream of dogs, cats, and other animals. Mosquitoes transmit heartworms in their microscopic stage when they bite your dog or cat. The heartworms then mature for six months as they travel to your pet’s heart and pulmonary arteries. Cats are not the natural heartworm host, so they usually harbor only a few adult worms. Dogs, however, are the heartworm’s preferred host, so the worms in dogs can grow to a foot in length, and multiply into the hundreds. At your dog’s annual wellness exam, we will use a small blood sample to run a heartworm antigen test checking for these adult worms, which cause inflammation and block blood flow, leading to heart failure in dogs, and severe lung problems in cats.

Choose the best heartworm preventive for your pet

Pet owners often wonder which heartworm preventive is best. Every pet is unique, and many affordable options are available. Remember, heartworm prevention is a relatively small investment in your dog’s health, especially compared with the cost, stress, and risks of heartworm treatment. The best choice of heartworm preventive is the one that works for you and your pet. The following options are available:

  • Monthly topical heartworm preventives These products are applied to the base of the neck near the shoulder blades, and absorbed through the skin. Two common topical heartworm preventives are Canine Advantage Multi and Revolution. Choose a memorable day to apply these products, such as the first of every month.
  • Monthly oral heartworm preventives — These preventives are given by mouth every month in a treat-like chewable form such as Heartgard, or a flavored tablet form such as Interceptor. Most come with stickers to place on your calendar as reminders, or you can install a reminder app on your phone or hand-held device.
  • Injectable heartworm preventives — If your schedule makes monthly medications difficult, consider a long-acting injectable heartworm preventive. Proheart 6 is administered to your dog at our hospital twice yearly, and Proheart 12 can be administered once yearly at your pet’s annual wellness exam.
  • Combination parasite prevention products — Many heartworm products protect your pet from additional parasites. Depending on your pet’s lifestyle and risk, you can use a product that also covers fleas, ticks, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, or tapeworms. 
  • Mosquito control and repellents — Since mosquitoes are the vector for heartworm disease, you must not only use heartworm preventives, but also eliminate standing water around your home, to decrease mosquito breeding grounds. Some pet products, such as K9 Advantix II, also repel mosquitoes. Be aware that mosquito control decreases heartworm disease spread, but does not replace regular heartworm prevention medication.

Allergies, sensitivities, and reactions to heartworm preventives

Some pets do not react well to particular oral medications, some have skin sensitive to topical products, and some pets are allergic to the heartworm preventive’s flavoring or other components. If your pet falls into one of these categories, they should still receive heartworm prevention. The team at Town and Country Animal Hospital will help choose a safe heartworm product for your pet, or customize one from a compounding pharmacy.

Natural options for heartworm prevention

Many pet owners want natural products for their pets, but don’t let these options leave your pet without heartworm protection—the risk is too great, and the threat is too serious. Be aware that most heartworm medications are derived from natural sources versus synthetic chemicals, and a low level of the active ingredient will protect your pet. While a healthy immune system, a thick hair coat, and natural mosquito repellents may be helpful, they cannot fully protect your pet from heartworms. Above all, remember that heartworm disease and treatment pose a much higher risk to your dog than heartworm prevention.

Call Town and Country Animal Hospital to discuss the best heartworm prevention protocol for your pet. Heartworm numbers don’t have to be high in our state. If every dog is ensured heartworm prevention, Alabama may one day rank proudly at the bottom of the list of heartworm positive dogs.