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American Heart Health Month: Your Pet and Heartworm

American Heart Health Month: Your Pet and Heartworm

This is the month to really take note on healthy hearts not only for you, but also for your pet.

Our friends at the American Heartworm Society (AHS) recently updated its guidelines on heartworm disease, noting that the potential for the spread of disease is high, thanks to mosquito-friendly environmental conditions and the presence of both wild and domestic infected animals that transmit this deadly parasite to both dogs and cats. AHS is urging both veterinarians and pet owners to follow its guidelines, which call for year-round heartworm prevention and annual testing of pets for heartworm infection.

Here are some answers to questions that you may not be aware of from the AHS.

Q. “I live in the Upper Midwest. Why do I need to give my pet heartworm treatment in the winter?”
A. “Many pet owners living in cold climates assume that they can stop giving heartworm preventive medication in the winter, because they aren’t seeing mosquitoes,” says Wallace Graham, DVM, president of AHS. “The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to predict when the last infected mosquito in the house or outdoor environment will die in the fall or reappear in the spring, making heartworm an actual threat all year long.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Wallace notes, millions of pets live in or travel to warm climates where mosquitoes are a problem year-round. That means the threat of heartworm transmission is constant.

Q. “I read somewhere that there’s a problem with heartworm prevention medications not working as well as they used to. Is this true?”
A. Veterinarians and pet owners who spend time researching heartworm disease online may run across articles on lack of efficacy. AHS—as well as other veterinary organizations and researchers—are studying this issue to determine whether there are problems with medication effectiveness.

At the same time, Dr. Graham maintains that poor compliance—owners not giving medication at the same time every month or skipping a dose—is the problem behind most reported cases of product failure. AHS stresses the importance of ongoing prevention and believes that year-round prevention offers the best hope for protection.

Q. “I heard on the news that the medication used to treat heartworm infections isn’t available. Is that true?”
A. In the past year, there has been a shortage of melarsomine, the only medication approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in dogs. While supplies are tight, the medication is available through veterinarians.

In the meantime, Dr. Graham emphasizes, owners should bear in mind that the best offense against heartworm disease is a good defense—faithfully administering heartworm preventives on a year-round basis.

“While heartworm is a serious disease in dogs and cats, it is highly preventable,” notes Dr. Graham. “We urge owners to ensure their pets get regular veterinary care, which includes an annual heartworm test and prescription of a heartworm preventative.”

For more info on Heartworm disease, visit

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