Does heartworm prevention and flea prevention need to be given year round? Yes! Mosquitos and fleas are both present year round across the United States, but especially in the Gulf Coast region where temperatures remain warm for much of the year. Heartworm incidence in this region is very high making year round heartworm prevention paramount. The bad news: Heartworm disease can be fatal to dogs, cats, and ferrets. The good news: You can protect your pet from this disease.
Heartworms are carried by infected mosquitoes that transmit parasitic worms that grow in the arteries of the lungs and heart of dogs, cats, and other species of mammals, including ferrets. The heartworm larvae enter the bite wound and move through the pet’s body. They can grow up to 12 inches long!
That’s one reason veterinarians often recommend that pets receive heartworm prevention medication all year long. Although there are a fewer number of mosquitoes in the winter, there is still a risk that an animal could contract heartworms if the owner stops giving medication during this season.
You never know when the first mosquito is going to come out, or when the last mosquito is going to die. Heartworms have been reported in dogs in all 50 states, and just because you live in a state with a colder climate doesn’t mean that your animal is safe. Animal owners who stop giving heartworm prevention medication during the winter run the risk of their animal contracting heartworms. If the animal becomes infected and you later resume giving the heartworm prevention medication without testing, you may be putting your pet in danger. The preventive medication can kill so many microfilariae (the offspring of adult, female heartworms) at once that it could shock the animal’s system, with potentially fatal results. Also, the prevention medication will not kill adult heartworms, which will continue to reproduce. Treatment can be hard on animals, and McLean says it’s much easier and healthier for the pet to prevent the disease in the first place.
Be sure to have your veterinarian test your dog before you start using a heartworm prevention medication. Prevention medications for dogs come in all three forms: oral, topical, and injectable but they all target larvae, not adult heartworms. Talk to your veterinarian about which is best for your dog. Dogs that have heartworms may not show symptoms right away, and your veterinarian can easily test your dog with a simple blood test.
Cats and ferrets need protection, too, even if they are strictly inside pets. Mosquitoes that transmit heartworms can easily slip inside through an open door or window. There is no FDA-approved treatment for killing adult heartworms for cats or ferrets so prevention is critical.
And even if you’ve kept your dog on a steady regimen of preventive medication, your veterinarian should test for heartworms on a yearly basis. No drug is 100 percent effective, and you want to make sure the drug is working. Moreover, owners often forget to give the prevention medication for a month or longer.
Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration