I am astounded by how many dogs that are surrendered to animal shelters, are infected with heartworms. Heartworms are a serious, progressive and potentially fatal disease that affects dogs, and in lesser numbers cats, as well as some other animals, such as coyotes. AND IT IS PREVENTABLE.
For those who aren’t aware, heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Yes, you know mosquitoes, those pesky bugs that can make time outside a misery. Not surprisingly, heartworms are most prevalent in areas that are hot and humid. Have you been outside lately? Makes sense that according to the National Heartworm Association, Florida has a very high incidence of heartworm disease. FORTUNATELY, IT IS PREVENTABLE.
Here is some information about heartworms that you may not be aware of. Heartworms live in an effected host from between 5-7 years. Every year that an animal is unprotected, the number of heartworms may continue to multiply. The higher the number of heartworms, the more difficult it is to treat and the more likely there may be permanent damage to the heart, lungs and arteries. Also, heartworms are spread when a mosquito bites an infected animal and then spreads it to a new animal. Coyotes, that are becoming more prevalent in our area, can be carriers of heartworms, thereby increasing the risk. Also interesting to note, migration of dogs, say after a natural disaster like Hurricane Michael, when hundreds of dogs are relocated to other geographic areas, may increase the rate of heartworms in an area. ALL OF THIS POINTS TO THE CRITICAL IMPORTANCE OF PREVENTION.
So if HEARTWORM DISEASE IS PREVENTALBE, why are so many pets heartworm positive? Maybe some owners don’t realize that Nassau County is in the heart (excuse the pun), of heartworm country and that because of our climate, prevention is needed year round. Or maybe they aren’t aware that, according to the University of Florida, there is a 100% chance of an unprotected dog being infected by heartworms, if she is bitten by a mosquito carrier. Perhaps they are thinking that it might be just as easy to treat an infected dog, as it is to prevent the disease. Not true, treatment of heartworms consists of injections of an arsenic solution that kills the adult heartworms. Treatment is painful, lengthy and may be fatal. Also according to the University of Florida, one in 20 dogs may be expected to die as a result of this therapy. Lastly, owners may not think their monthly budget can accommodate the cost of heartworm prevention. But consider this. The American Heartworm Association estimates that a 12-month prevention plan for a 40-pound dog may cost $70-$200 annually. Treatment of an infected dog may cost $1200-$1800.
Your veterinarian can test and provide prevention for heartworms. For those pet owners for whom finances are a concern, No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville www.fcnmhp.org and the Jacksonville Community Pet Clinic www.mycommunitypetclinic.com offer low cost options for testing and prevention.
Kudos to both Nassau Humane Society and Nassau County Animal Services for treating and caring, at significant expense, the homeless dogs that are heartworm positive
For more information about heartworms visit the American Heartworm Society at www.heartwormsociety.org.