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Vail Pet Talk column: Heartworm is a serious, potentially fatal disease

The prevalence of heartworm has gone up in the high country due to a few things, including weather pattern changes that have caused an increase in the population of mosquitos, which are what spread heartworm.
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Is it almost springtime already? I can’t believe that Daylight Saving Time is this weekend — which at my house means bike rides and going to the park after work.

Spring in my world also means heartworm. I am currently working with a dog with heartworm and it got me thinking how the prevalence of heartworm in the high country has changed throughout the past several years. Instances of heartworm in Eagle County have gone up, and we, as veterinarians, recommend that your pets be on prevention.

I believe that the prevalence has gone up due to a few things — weather pattern changes have caused an increase in the population of mosquitos, which are what spread heartworm. In addition, Colorado commonly takes in rescue dogs from Southern states, and heartworm comes with these rescue dogs, as it is much more prevalent in those areas.

Heartworm is a serious disease. There are 22 different species of mosquitos that carry heartworm, and they are all active at different times of the day and year. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat (and it only takes one bite), it can transmit the heartworm, which grows into a foot-long worm that can live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels. This worm can then cause lung disease, heart failure and other organ failure and is potentially fatal. A heartworm-positive dog in the neighborhood substantially increases the risk of infection to healthy dogs.

Get Tested Annually

Annual heartworm testing is important, due to the fact that an infected dog can be successfully treated. It is important to remember that early detection is key to successful treatment. The American Heartworm Association recommends a yearly heartworm test, even if your dog is on prevention year-round and even if you live in a place that has cold winters.

You may be wondering why a yearly test is recommended, even if you keep your pet on prevention year-round — good question. The reason for this is mostly due to human error — what if you forget a month or just give it a few days late? This allows risk for infection. Other reasons include the dog spitting it out when you aren’t looking or vomiting it up. Lastly, we want to ensure that the prevention you are using is working.

Fortunately, heartworm prevention is very effective when given properly. Additionally, it is much safer and more cost-effective to give monthly prevention, compared with what it is like to treat an infected animal. There is only one approved heartworm treatment for dogs, and it can cost 15 times what a year’s worth of prevention would cost.

Contact your veterinarian and get in for a heartworm test soon and strongly consider keeping your pet on heartworm prevention year-round.

Liz Foster, DVM, is an associate veterinarian at Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center. She can be reached at 970-328-7085.


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