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What are heartworms? Heartworms are parasitic worms that live in the heart. Dogs and cats are exposed and infected with heartworms through mosquitos. It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to infect your pet. Once the mosquito bites, the worm larvae travels through the bloodstream to the vital organs, ultimately landing in the heart.
Now that we know what heartworms are, why do we want to prevent them? Heartworms, if not treated, are fatal. Prevention is the key to not having an infected pet. Pets are started on prevention as young as 4 months and given the entire life of the pet. There are treatments for infected pets, but it is hard on the pet and costly. Labwork, x-rays and a series of injections are all part of the treatment process.
How do we prevent? Heartworm prevention is given by a monthly oral tablet or a time release injection. The injection is given once every 6 months and only protects against heartworms. Oral tablets are given monthly and commonly contain intestinal dewormers. Monthly heartworm prevention can also contain flea prevention, as well. If medications are given inconsistently or stopped for a period of 6 months or longer, a heartworm test needs to be performed by your veterinarian. This must be done before starting your pet back on heartworm prevention. Giving an infected pet heartworm prevention can cause complications and even be fatal. Veterinarians also recommend testing your pet every year as a precautionary measure, as prevention is not always 100% effective.
Heartworms are found in every state in the United States. While some are not as prevalent as others, every state has risk. North Carolina and the Roanoke-Chowan area have some of the worst risks due to our mosquito problem.