How Young Should I Start My Pet on Heartworm Medication?

Heartworms are potentially deadly parasites that affect the hearts of pets like dogs, ferrets, or cats. Heartworms are expensive and difficult to cure but are easy to prevent. Heartworm disease is rampant along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts in the United States.

Pet owners need to identify where the disease is prevalent. The illness is also high in the Mississippi River together with its tributaries.


How Do Pets Get Heartworm Disease?

Heartworms spread through a mosquito bite. The pet becomes the definitive host, meaning that the heartworms mature and produce more offspring while inside your pet’s body. After the mosquito bite, the larvae progressively develop into mature heartworms within six to seven months.

Heartworms live inside your pet’s heart. Microfilariae are their offspring that live in the blood vessels. These worms can pass on from one pet to another. A mosquito bite on a pet can pick up the microfilariae and pass it on to another pet. Heartworms have a lifespan of up to seven years inside their host’s body. A host can have an average number of 15 worms, but the number can grow up to 250 worms.


Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease can result in organ damage, heart failure, severe lung disease, or even death. Some signs and symptoms to look out for are:

  • Mild, persistent coughing.
  • Unwillingness to exercise.
  • Fatigue after any activity.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Swollen belly.


When Should Your Pet Start Heartworm Medication?

The American Heartworm Society recommends that pets like puppies start taking their heartworm medication from as early as six to eight weeks old. Annual testing for heartworms in pets is ideal. A pet should go through tests for the worms before going through preventative treatment. 

Heartworm-positive pets who get preventive treatment remain infected with adult heartworms, as treatment does not kill the developed worms. Giving heartworm medicine to an infected pet may lead to death. The microfilariae in the bloodstream may suddenly die due to the medication. As a result, your pet may experience shock and possibly die.


Side Effects of Heartworm Medication

Heartworm medication rarely has any side effects if given at the appropriate dosage. However, some pets can experience incoordination, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your pet is allergic to the medication, there can be hives, swelling on the face, itching, or seizures.

If anything out of the ordinary starts to happen after medication, it is ideal to contact your veterinarian for medical assistance.


Prevention Is the Best Treatment

Prevention is less costly and can protect your pet from going through pain and suffering or eventually death. Your veterinarian must approve most of the prevention medication through a prescription.

Your pet can receive the medication every month, either as an oral tablet or through the application of a liquid to their skin. There are prevention products that vets can inject every six to 12 months. Year-round heartworm prevention is vital. Your pet’s veterinarian will advise you on the best way to go about the preventive process.

For more about heartworm treatment, visit Dr. Mike’s Affordable Vet Care at our office in Arlington, Texas. You can also call (817) 663-8160 to book an appointment today.

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