JACKSON, Miss.- If you’re a pet owner then you know how important your pet is to you and your family, but are you taking the right steps to protect your furry friend?
Mississippi ranks third in the highest rates of heartworm disease in the country. In fact, clinics in the area see over 100 cases every year. At least a million pets in the U.S. are estimated to have heartworm disease right now in spite of the fact that the disease can be easily prevented, according the American Heartworm Society.
Dr. Stephen Jones, a veterinarian and president of the American Heartworm Society says, “About 73 cases per clinic are diagnosed every year in Mississippi.”
Heartworms are transmitted through mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an animal that has heartworms they’re likely to ingest some of the baby heartworms that are swimming around the animal’s blood stream. The mosquito then transfers those heartworms it ingested to the next animal it bites.
Jones said, “Most animals infected show no clinical signs early on and without realizing, the disease begins to advance and progress. Once a pet becomes clinically ill, treating the animal becomes very dangerous. When your pet gets heartworms, that disease creates permanent problems because the worm lives in the arteries of the lungs and in the heart. When the worms are killed they can’t magically leave the body and can end up causing blockages and blood clots.”
While cases of heartworm in animals increase during the summer and when more mosquitoes are out, people living in the northern states need to take precautions as well. Jones said, “Animals can get bit by a mosquito any time of the year, even in freezing temperatures in the northern states.”
If your animal is a house pet, Jones says, “They still need to get parasite prevention. All animals can pick up the diseases and once they have it, it’s a lengthy treatment process and difficult to remove from your animals.”
The survey, which is conducted every three years by AHS with veterinarians nationwide, aims to track heartworm trends and gather information about heartworm incidence. Here are their findings as well as their recommendations as we head into the “dog days” of summer:
- Heartworms are everywhere. The highest incidence rates of heartworm disease are in the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Delta states, but are also relatively high in states not traditionally considered hotbeds of heartworm infection. These include the Upper Midwest-especially the states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio-and the western states of Arizona and California. Meanwhile, one-third of veterinarians say that heartworm is either a significant disease problem or one of the most serious diseases affecting their patients. Less than 15 percent of veterinarians say they never see heartworm disease.
- Heartworm disease is a serious threat to pet health. While heartworm infection affects dogs, cats and even ferrets somewhat differently, it is a serious, life-threatening disease that damages the hearts, lungs and pulmonary arteries of affected pets, often causing permanent damage. While heartworm disease can be treated in dogs, the treatment is expensive, time consuming and not without risks of its own. There is no approved treatment available for cats.
- Prevention is key. Prevention of heartworm and other parasites is safe, easy and affordable, but the preventive medications need to be given faithfully, as lapses in prevention are a major factor in pets becoming infected. Veterinarians participating in the heartworm incidence study identified commitment by pet owners to heartworm prevention as the key to lowering the incidence of heartworm disease.”
You can get heartworm prevention through your veterinarian. Your animals need to be treated monthly, but if you can’t remember that monthly Heartguard pill, you can instead get your pet an injection called ProHeart twice a year.
More information, including the study highlights and the newest heartworm incidence map is available at https://www.heartwormsociety.org