We let pets into our hearts, don’t let heartworms into theirs!

posted on May 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Heartworm disease is a common illness here in Minnesota.  It is carried by mosquitoes, and spread when an infected mosquito bites your pet.  As the worms mature, they can block the blood vessels of the heart and lungs, causing both circulatory and respiratory disease such as difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, asthma like symptoms, blood clots, anemia, heart murmurs, irregular heart beats, high blood pressure, and thickening of heart muscles (hypertrophy).  Infection can also cause protein loss through the kidneys, which over time can damage the kidneys.  Lastly, it can be fatal.

Treatment of heartworm disease involves a series of shots which are derived from arsenic.  There is a lot of follow up and cost involved-multiple chest x-rays, medications to help prevent reactions to the arsenic and dying worms and anaphylactic shock, hospitalization, and follow up testing.  Pets must be kept confined to a cage just large enough for the dog to stand, turn around, and lie down in for a couple of weeks.  This to help prevent the pet from having a blood clot or piece of dying worm getting stuck in a blood vessel in the lungs, called a pulmonary thromboembolism or PTE.  PTE can cause difficulty breathing and even death.  Cats and ferrets cannot tolerate the arsenic compound used to treat heartworms, and there is not a medical treatment available to these pets.  In severe cases, open heart surgery has been used, but often these pets make poor anesthesia patients.  Because of all of the terrible side effects to a very risky treatment, prevention is much easier and safer for the pet.

Yearly testing for heartworm disease is recommended by us at Heritage Animal Hospital, as well as Companion Animal Parasite Council, and the American Heartworm Society.  There are several reasons for testing yearly.  No preventative is 100%, and let’s face it, most of us are not 100% on getting it on time every month.  The sooner a diagnosis is made, the less evidence of disease changes are present in the body, and the more successful treatment can be.  Also, the preventative, if given to a heartworm positive animal, has a slim but real chance of causing the same side effect of a PTE that treatment does.

We also recommend yearly heartworm preventative for all pets as opposed to seasonal for a number of reasons:

  • Mosquitoes may survive indoors longer than the traditional 6 months of treatment
  • Many pets travel with their owners during the winter months and may go to an area where heartworm disease is a threat year round
  • Many of the heartworm preventatives also cover intestinal parasites such as hookworm, whipworm, and roundworm, as well as some having flea and/or tick control
  • Approximately one third of cats diagnosed as heartworm positive are indoor only pets!

Heartworm disease is a preventable illness that can be quite serious and possibly fatal.  Talk with us today about our recommendations for your pet and heartworm preventative!

Snug as a bug, in your pet?

posted on March 03, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Even though the weather is still cold, internal parasites may be snug as a bug inside your pet!  One intestinal parasite can produce 100,000 eggs per day, which are passed in the pets’ feces and into your yard, where they can remain infective and pose a threat to your pet and even you for years to come.

A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted between animals and humans.  Some of the intestinal parasites found in our pets are zoonotic, and can cause some potentially irreversible damage in humans.

There are a number of intestinal parasites that can infect our pets.  Roundworms are an intestinal parasite that are zoonotic.  In humans, the worm larvae can travel through areas where they are not meant to, including internal organs such as your liver, which is called visceral larval migrans, or through the retina in your eye, which can lead to blindness, and is called ocular larval migrans.  Tapeworms are another zoonotic parasite.  Hookworms are also zoonotic, and can be picked up through the skin (so don’t walk around barefoot!).  Hookworms cause something called cutaneous larval migrans, which is a red rash where the worm is traveling through the skin.  Whipworms and coccidia are two parasites that are not zoonotic.  Giardia and cryptosporidium are two parasites that are rarely zoonotic.  These parasites pose more of a threat to people who are immunocompromised.

Your pet can get an internal parasite from a number of different sources.  Puppies and kittens can get parasites while in the womb before they are born, or through the milk while they nurse.  Animals can get parasites from a contaminated environment, objects, food, or water.  Your pet could contract a parasite if it is allowed to hunt and eat other animals, or if it has fleas.  They can also get hookworms like humans, through the skin.

Signs of intestinal parasites can include vomiting, sometimes with worms present in the vomit, diarrhea, which may be bloody, worms or worm segments in the feces, ill thrift or lack of weight gain, potbellied appearance, anemia (pale gums), dehydration, and if a severe enough infection is present, even death.

So what can you do to help prevent these serious infections?  Practice good personal hygiene.  Clean up feces in the yard at least once a week, and empty the litterbox daily.  Keep your child’s sandbox covered.  Do not feed your pet raw meat.  Use a preventative flea and tick treatment such as Frontline® or Revolution®.  Do not allow your pet to hunt and eat other animals, and try to discourage wild animals from entering your yard.  Use a monthly heartworm preventative such as Sentinel®, Interceptor®, or Heartgard® since these products also have a preventative dewormer.

Most importantly, have a fecal sample checked by your veterinarian.  No deworming medication is effective against all lifestages of the parasite, and not all parasites are susceptible to all medications.  For this reason, we here at Heritage Animal Hospital follow the recommendations of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) and recommend a twice yearly fecal examination for all pets.