Understanding parasites and pets can be tricky, especially with the variations in disease transmission, life cycle, and prevention. This is the case with heartworm disease, a complex mosquito-borne illness now seen frequently. So, let’s put to rest common myths regarding this deadly disease.

Myth: Pets in Montana don’t require heartworm prevention in winter.

Truth: Pets should be on heartworm prevention year-round, regardless of location. Even in Montana, heartworm disease is a serious concern, with 1 of every 77 dogs tested showing a positive result this year. And, two native Billings dogs were diagnosed with heartworm disease earlier this year, while it was still winter.

Myth: Heartworm disease is contagious for pets.

Truth: You should be concerned if we diagnose one of your pets with heartworm disease, but you do not need to quarantine your infected pet. Heartworms must go through a mosquito to develop into adults, so heartworm-positive pets are safe to be around. However, if a neighborhood pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, be aware that the infected mosquitoes carrying heartworm larvae in your area can infect your pet, as well.

Myth: Only dogs can get heartworms.

Truth: Any mammal can contract heartworm disease, even humans. Dogs and other canines are the preferred host of heartworms, so most severe cases are seen in dogs. Cats do get heartworm disease, but in felines, the damage is caused by the immature larvae, because the heartworms seldom reach adulthood.

Myth: House cats don’t need heartworm prevention.

Truth: Your house cat may never stick a whisker outside, but she is still at risk. How often have you heard a fly or mosquito buzz inside your home? Insects can easily sneak inside through a torn window screen or an open door and infect your indoors-only pet.

Myth: Giving heartworm preventive to a pet is a chore.

Truth: Heartworm preventives are now palatable and easy to give your pet. We carry a variety of options, making it simple to medicate even the most finicky pet. And, our new online home delivery service can deliver a monthly dose to your door so you don’t have to remember anything.

Myth: Heartworm prevention for pets is expensive.

Truth: Heartworm prevention is economical when compared with the cost of treatment. If we diagnose your pet with heartworm disease, the cost of staging the severity of the disease, treatment, hospitalization, and post-treatment care can be more than $1,000. Monthly preventives often cost less than $20 a month. Consider combining  flea and heartworm products to cover the widest prevention range and give your pet the best protection.

Myth: The heartworms will die eventually and my pet will not require treatment.

Truth: Heartworms do usually live only five to seven years in dogs, but they can cause a lot of damage  in those years. Adult heartworms can number in the hundreds and do irreparable harm to the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. In addition, scarring can cause decreased blood flow and body functions, leading to your pet’s early death. Also, your pet will be a reservoir for this deadly disease, continuously generating new heartworm larvae that will infect more mosquitoes and pets.

Myth: Pets rarely show any signs unless the disease is severe.

Truth: Dogs may display coughing and exercise intolerance in the early stages, and then heart failure and abdominal fluid buildup as the disease advances. In cats, the first sign of heartworm disease can be sudden death, but they generally show asthma-related signs, such as coughing and other respiratory issues.

Myth: Mosquitoes need to stay attached during feeding to transmit heartworms to pets.

Truth: Mosquitoes do not transmit diseases like ticks, which require several hours of attachment to spread infection. One quick bite is all it takes for the mosquito to transfer heartworm larvae through your pet’s skin into the gap to the bloodstream made during feeding.

Myth: Pets on year-round heartworm prevention don’t require annual testing.

Truth: Annual heartworm testing is essential for knowing your pet’s heartworm status. Does she not tolerate medications and may spit out a dose, or does she rub off topical preventives? A quick test can give peace of mind about your pet’s heartworm status. Also, if your pet routinely tests negative at her yearly visits and you can demonstrate you purchase a year-round heartworm-prevention product, the manufacturer will pay for heartworm treatment if your pet ever tests positive.

Now that we have cleared up these myths about heartworm disease, you know that testing and prevention is critical to your pet’s health. Is it time for your pet’s annual heartworm test? Give us a call to schedule a visit for a complete heartworm-prevention package.