Heartworms in Texas

Heartworms are a parasitic worm transmitted by mosquitoes, about the size of a piece of spaghetti, that live in the right side of the heart and associated blood vessels. It takes only a single bite from a mosquito carrying the parasite to contract the disease. Dogs and cats respond differently to heartworm infection. Dogs frequently get large numbers of worms in their hearts that can literally choke off blood flow and generally lead to slow, progressive heart failure and lung lesions. In dogs, the treatment for heartworms is expensive, often costing $1,000 or more, requires prolonged confinement of a month or longer, is very painful, and can be fatal. In contrast, cats generally have only one to a few worms in their bodies, but are not as well adapted to the disease as dogs. As their bodies try to combat the worms, they often develop cysts in their brain, kidneys, liver, etc. which can lead to many conditions beyond heart failure, including seizures, kidney and liver failure, or sudden death. In fact, cats have been dying of heartworm disease for a long time, but only recently have testing methods been sensitive enough to detect heartworms in cats. Further, there is currently no treatment for heartworm disease in cats.

In 2004, a Gallop poll of veterinary clinics across the country found that heartworm disease was found in all 50 states, with over 250,000 cases diagnosed that year (and many infections go un-reported), led by Texas with over 42,000 cases. For pets spending a lot of time outside, and not on heartworm preventative, it is not even a question of if, but when they will contract heartworm disease. Indoor pets are at a lower risk but every year pets are diagnosed with heartworm disease that never, or rarely, go outside from mosquitoes that enter homes as people come and go. Heartworms can live in coyotes, foxes, wolves, and other wild dogs and cats. These animals act as a reservoir for the parasite and when combined with the mild winters and warm, humid summers in states like Texas, there are always plenty of mosquitoes to carry and spread the disease.

The good news is that heartworm disease in dogs and cats is entirely preventable with any number of extremely effective products applied either topically or orally, generally once a month. The bad news is that only 59% of clients nationally offer their pets heartworm preventative according to the American Heartworm Society. Client compliance is also a major concern as monthly preventatives are often forgotten for several months in a row. When considering how diligent many clients are about having their pets vaccinated, often to diseases much less dangerous or common than heartworms, the high percentage of unprotected animals is both puzzling and troubling. If you have any questions regarding how to best protect your pets, we are here to help.