Heartworm Disease in Grays Harbor
By Sonnya Crawford, DVM
Published in The Daily World May 2015
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease of pets in the United States. It isn't widely seen in Grays Harbor, so most people in our area aren't familiar with the disease. The foot-long worms live in the heart and lungs of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs of the body.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and dogs are the natural host. Dogs can have several hundred heartworms present in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes permanent damage to the infected dog's body and if untreated, kills the dog. Prevention is the best option.
Now that you know the nuts and bolts of heartworm disease, here are some fun trivia facts:
Heartworms live a long, long time. They take 6 months to become adults and live for 5 to 7 years in dogs. Since we can only detect adult heartworms with the typical tests that we use, your dog can be infected with the juveniles for a long time before an accurate diagnosis is made.
Heartworms can infect animals that you wouldn't suspect . These worms can infect foxes, coyotes, sea lions, ferrets, cats and even humans (although this is really rare). Heartworms live 2-3 years in cats and cause severe disease. Signs of heartworm infection in cats include stumbling, seizures, fainting, collapse and even death. Cats do not routinely get infected with heartworm, but when they do there is no treatment. Prevention is the only protection for cats.
Heartworms are everywhere! Although infection depends on the mosquito population, temperatures and climate, heartworm disease has been diagnosed everywhere, including Grays Harbor County. Last year, Dr. Westby at Raintree Veterinary Center in Hoquiam was presented with a heartworm infected dog that had never traveled outside of our area. This case is testimony to the fact that we do have heartworm disease in our county. As we test more dogs in Grays Harbor, we will likely discover that heartworm infection is more prevalent here than we realize.
It is important to heartworm test your pet every 12 months and give heartworm preventative once a month, every month. Testing yearly is important, even if you treat every month. Although heartworm medications are very effective, nothing is perfect. Topical medications can be rubbed off. Oral medications can be spit out. It is possible to just get a bad batch of medication. Since heartworm infection can be deadly and difficult to treat, it is not worth the risk to your pet of not testing yearly.