The Heart(worm) Wants What It Wants

By April 25, 2017Uncategorized
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.” –American Heartworm Society
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What’s pesky, bloodthirsty, and always ruining the perfect day? Your landlord? Oh, okay. I’m sorry to hear that.

But also, Mosquitos. These little guys know how to get under our skin – and on top of it. And kind of inside of it, too? It’s complicated.

Here’s an interesting fact: Mosquitos find their prey by using special CO2 and thermal sensors. In a gist, they will only bite if their prey is alive and warm. This is actually an ingenious feat of evolution that prevents them from feasting on a dead animal. So next time you’re at a summer barbeque, make sure to hold your breath. Look around and see how your pathetic friends are being eaten alive! Try not to exhale as you laugh at their doom. Peasants! Mortals! …Okay, please resume breathing.

So how does this relate to our furry friends? If mosquitos are attracted to warmth, and both dogs and cats run warmer than us, then they are both equally if not more likely to get bitten. This is a concern because mosquitos are an integral part of the transmission of heartworm disease.

Let’s quickly review how this works:

1. Mosquito bites animal that already has heartworm disease
2. Mosquito draws up small “microfilaria” (essentially baby heartworms) from the infected animal
3. Mosquito clumsily buzzes around and finds another prey to bother
4. Mosquito bites again and deposits these microfilaria into the new prey
5. These larval-stage worms grow over a period of 6 months and become adult heartworms
6. This animal now needs to be treated for heartworm disease, since preventatives (Spectrum, Heartgard, etc) only kill microfilaria and larvae.


Moral of the story: USE YEAR-ROUND HEARTWORM PREVENTION. It is much easier to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat.

Dogs: Prevention comes in many forms. Sentinel Spectrum, the monthly chew that we offer, kills any microfilaria and larvae present in the dog.  Proheart6, the bi-annual injection that we offer, does the same. If you don’t use prevention for the winter months or miss more than one dose by accident, give us a call to discuss re-testing for heartworm disease before beginning your prevention again.

SUBTLE PLUG: Spectrum is available at either of our hospitals, or from our online store. Scroll up and click on that thingy on the right that says “Online Store”. Or, just click here!

Cats: Cats are also susceptible to heartworm disease, though they are an atypical host and it is much less common. We at Heart of Chelsea/Lower East Side along with the American Heartworm Society still recommend using products such as Revolution to prevent this potentially fatal infection. Even if your cat is indoors only, a few open windows in the house are all a mosquito needs to find prey.

What’s that? Looking for Revolution? I’m so glad you asked. You can also find that at our hospitals or our Online Store.

If you have more questions, check out the American Heartworm Society Website. Use year-round prevention, test every year, and don’t panic!

Enjoy these warmer months and remember, DEET is just for us!


Written by Lauren Gamiel, Veterinary Assistant

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