Mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal to your pet is on the rise around our region

The good news is that heartworm is easily prevented with medicine.
It is easy to prevent with medicine
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:43 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s a mosquito-borne disease that can kill your pets and we’re seeing more cases of it around the region. Local veterinarians want to remind you that it’s easily prevented.

Heartworm disease is nothing new, but some local veterinarians and rescue groups, like Planned Pethood, have seen an increase in cases around our region in the last several years.

Brooke West has been a vet for more than 15 years. She owns Perrysburg Animal Hospital and West Toledo Animal Hospital. “When I first started practicing, we’d see maybe one case a summer or in the fall. Now we see one a week or more, so it’s definitely on the rise.”

Heartworm causes things like heart failure and lung disease. “A mosquito will bite a dog with heartworm and then bite another dog. The infective larvae is inserted in the dog’s bloodstream. That’s how its spread,” West said.

Colleen Kane and her husband foster dogs for Planned Pethood. Through their work with the rescue group, they’ve cared for a number of heartworm positive dogs. “The worms look like spaghetti and entwine within the heart. It is an awful disease that can be fatal if not caught. The frustrating thing is that it’s something pets don’t have to go through,” Kane said.

Kane says it’s much cheaper to prevent with medicine than treat. “The treatment is very expensive and while all of our vet partners are very good to us, it’s still a high end treatment that can’t be fixed right away,” Kane said.

West says treatment is a difficult process. “It is a long and tedious process. There are exercise restrictions, painful injections, and lots of medicines to be on. It all takes months to finish,” West said.

She also says heartworm medicine is something you need to be giving all year. It’s the same message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They recommend year-round control and prevention because they have seen a live mosquito in the dead of January so you need to adhere to those guidelines,” West said. “You also can find mosquitoes just about everywhere, so even if your dog is not outside much, they need the medicine. Mosquitoes have no problem getting inside.”

If you can’t afford medication, Kane says ask for help. “Reach out. Ask your vet, a local rescue or shelter. That’s what we are all here for. We work as a team. Everybody wants you to keep your pet in your home and out of a shelter,” Kane said.

Experts at the FDA say signs of heartworm include a persistent cough, tiredness after mild activity, trouble breathing and a sickly appearance. It is not contagious and is only spread when a dog is bitten by a mosquito. A dog can have anywhere from 1 to more than 200 worms, though the average number is 15. The lifespan of a heartworm inside a dog is 5-7 years.

As mentioned, cats can also get heartworms. However, the FDA says cats are not as susceptible to infection as dogs because the worms do not thrive as well inside a cat’s body. Prevention is once again critical as there are several products approved to prevent heartworms in cats. Ferrets can also get heartworms.

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