As winter finally loses her icy grip on the Berks County area, the warm weather heralds the start of another parasite season. One issue that continues to plague the entire country is heartworm. In the last survey conducted, clinics in our area report 1-5 cases per year. We just finished treating a local dog for heartworm in February. Heartworms are a parasite that are carried by mosquitoes. An infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, transmitting the immature form of the heartworm. The heartworm then develops inside your pet, living there from 2-7 years. Heartworms cause damage to the heart, and vessels leading to and from the heart, which can cause symptoms of coughing, exercise intolerance, and lethargy. The treatment involves a compound in the arsenic family, and takes several months to complete. Also adding to the dilemma of treatment is the fact that the drug is no longer manufactured in the United States, and therefore needs to be imported on a case by case basis. Luckily, monthly heartworm preventatives can alleviate the need for treatment, and help control other parasites as well. If your pet has missed months of preventative, or was never started on preventative, then a blood test for heartworm will need to be performed before starting medication to avoid a reaction. Make sure your pet doesn’t fall prey to an easily preventable disease.
Dr. Ann Bastian