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A look at preventing heartworms

7/21/2004

Heartworms are nasty parasites that are found all over the country. The bad news is that if they infect your dog they can cause irreversible heart damage that can lead to poor performance or even death. The good news is that you can prevent them from ever causing a problem.

The heartworm is actually a long slender worm that is contracted from mosquitoes while still in the larval stage. If an infected mosquito bites your dog they will inject the larva into the tissues at the bite and the larva will migrate to your dog's heart.

Once in the heart, the heartworm will continue to develop, grow, and produce more baby heartworms. But these larvae cannot grow into adult heartworms until a new mosquito ingests them from the blood stream, a molt occurs, and then they are re-injected into another, or the same, dog.

Because of this, the prime point of stopping a heartworm infection at the migrating larvae stage; before they reach the heart. This not only prevents them from growing into adults, causing heart damage, and producing offspring, but it also prevents the damage done during migration.

Heartworm prevention has come a long ways in the last 30 years. Initially, the only products available to prevent infections were daily pills that had to be given to the dog. These pills, named Filaribits, are still available today. But for most, it is hard to remember to give that pill every day. Some days it happens — some days it doesn't, and one day without the pill will put your dog at risk. Thankfully we now have an easier way.

Today you can take your dogs in and get an injection, called ProHeart 6, which prevents heartworms for six months. This can be quite convenient, especially when you have a large number of dogs to deal with. The down side to this choice is that we don't know if this medicine protects against any of the other parasites that try to feed off of our dogs, such as intestinal worms. There are antidotal reports that the injection does give some protection against a few other parasites, but to be sure you will want to consider some of the other products available.

The monthly heartworm preventives offer the broadest range of protection, when you consider not only heartworms but other parasites as well. The original product in this class was Heartguard, whose primary ingredient is ivermectin. With the addition of pyrantel pamate, Heartguard was able to protect against additional intestinal parasites as well. Today ivermectin is available as a generic product and there are becoming generic, or off brand, Heartguard products available as well, but if you want to protect against other parasites as well, be sure to check the label carefully for additional ingredients.

For the widest coverage of parasite control from a single product (and ingredient), Interceptor brand heartworm prevention is the way to go. Interceptor protects against all the major intestinal parasites, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms, while preventing heartworm infection as well.

These different types of heartworm prevention are really the only truly effective means to offer your dog protection. Don't be fooled by products that boldly claim "heartworm protection" but then go on to suggest that they work by repelling mosquitoes. We all know that some repellants are a pretty good buy but none are 100% effective, and when you consider the problematic interference of dog's coat, there is now way I would rely on "repellants" to protect my dog.

Without a good pumper, your sporting dog will lack the needed get-up-and-go. It is very easy to prevent heartworms. If you have questions about how often heartworm prevention should be given in your area contact your veterinarian.