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Heartworm Prevention

Written By: Dr. Chris
Published In: Heartworm, 07-04-2016

Heartworm disease and prevention requires the attention of every pet owner. Heartworm disease is easily preventable, however, it can be fatal if left untreated. Even if the disease is diagnosed early on by a veterinarian, treatment can be incredibly expensive and can lead to further complications.

Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes, and it affects dogs and cats around the world. The most susceptible regions are those with higher mosquito populations. In the United States, this means that areas near the coast and south eastern regions see more instances of the disease than other areas, however, heartworm disease is prevalent in virtually all areas.

As portrayed on the Heartworm Society’s website, found at http://www.heartwormsociety.org, a heartworm infection begins with a simple mosquito bite. When a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae bites your pet, microscopic larvae enter the pet’s body through the bite wound.  These larvae then travel through the bloodstream, eventually making their way to the heart and blood vessels around the heart and lungs.  As they take up residence in the heart and mature, they begin to reproduce.  Their growth is the root of their danger. They feed on the inner lining of the heart and mature into adult heartworms over a period of 6 months. Eventually, the adult heartworms block essential blood vessels that support such vital organs as the lungs, liver, and kidneys.

Treatment of heartworm disease has the highest chance of success during the early stages.  Unfortunately, symptoms associated with heartworm disease are not usually evident at first, making it very difficult to detect in the early stages. Outward physical symptoms usually occur only after the pet’s heart has begun to fail. Coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and weight loss are some of the most noticeable symptoms.

Treatments for heartworm disease are based on combinations of medications that are designed to kill off the heartworms, larvae, and microfilariae. These treatments can be extraordinarily expensive, and the resulting build-up of dead heartworms can itself result in deadly complications. Advanced heartworm infections often require expensive hospitalizations and also have a higher risk of serious complications.

Fortunately, preventing heartworm disease is effective and inexpensive.  A simple blood test to check for pre-existing heartworm infections is required prior to starting your pet on a prevention program.  There are four families of effective heartworm prevention drugs. Medications in the Ivermectin and Milbemycin families are administered orally, while medications in the Selamectin and Moxidectin families are administered topically.

Heartworm prevention medications in the Ivermectin family of pharmaceuticals include such brands as Heartgard® Plus, Iverhart® Plus and Iverhart® MAX. These heartworm prevention medications are administered by mouth once a month and are taken year-round. The American Heartworm Society previously recommended heartworm prevention medications only for seasonal use; however, the added protection against intestinal parasites that is now included in most heartworm preventatives has led the American Heartworm Society to recommend their use year-round. Heartgard Plus and Iverhart Plus are both effective heartworm preventatives, and include protection against intestinal parasites, roundworms, and hookworms. Iverhart MAX includes all of the benefits found in Iverhart Plus and is the only heartworm prevention medication available that can also prevent tapeworms.

The Milbemycin family of heartworm prevention drugs is sold in medications such as Interceptor® Flavor Tabs and Sentinel® Flavor Tabs. These medications provide all of the protection that is available from Heartgard Plus and Iverhart Plus. In addition, Interceptor Flavor Tabs and Sentinel Flavor Tabs offer additional protection against certain types of whipworms. Like the Ivermectin family of medications, drugs in the Milbemycin family are administered by mouth, once a month, year-round.

The heartworm prevention medication known as Revolution® is in the Selamectin family of drugs. Like the previously mentioned heartworm medications, Revolution prevents against intestinal parasites, heartworms, roundworms, and hookworms. It is applied topically (between the shoulder blades once monthly), and also protects against FLEAS and TICKS. Keep in mind that this medication should not be given to puppies less than six weeks old.

Finally, the Moxidectin family of heartworm prevention drugs is represented by medications such as Advantage Multi™.  Advantage Multi offers all of the protection found in Revolution (including flea and tick prevention) and is administered topically as well, (between the shoulder blades once monthly throughout the year).

If the choice is made to use an oral HEARTWORM MEDICINE, such as those in the Ivermectin and Milbemycin families, an additional flea control product is recommended during flea season. Medications such as K9 ADVANTIX® and FRONTLINE PLUS FOR DOGS® provide effective flea and tick protection.

All of these products are easily administered and provide effective protection against heartworms and other harmful infections. No one wants to put their pet through traumatic and costly treatments.  Luckily, with the variety of affordable prevention medications available, you do not have to.

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian. Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes.  Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.

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