Many myths and misconceptions about heartworm disease in pets make knowing what is true or false a challenge. Fortunately, your veterinarian is a reliable resource when you have questions about your pet’s health. At Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic, we have busted eight myths to help you better understand heartworm disease.
Myth 1: Indoor pets are not at risk of contracting heartworm disease.
Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes that have bitten an infected animal and retained heartworm larvae that they pass along to the next animal they bite. Stopping mosquitoes from entering your home through a window or doorway and feeding on your indoor pet is impossible, so even indoor-only pets are at risk.
Myth 2: Heartworms are contagious.
Heartworms can only be transmitted by an infected mosquito that feeds on a new host. Although the mosquito can spread disease from animal to animal, heartworm disease is neither an airborne disease, nor one that can be spread by physical contact.
Myth 3: We do not have heartworm disease in New York.
Some states do have a higher disease risk, but heartworm has been reported in all 50 U.S. states. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, 2,638 dogs and 64 cats tested positive for heartworm disease in New York last year. The mosquito population is determined by climate, mosquito species, and local wildlife. As more animals travel nationally and internationally, the risk of heartworm disease is increasing in each state.
Myth 4: Heartworm prevention is not necessary year-round.
Most mosquitoes are more dormant during the winter months, but some remain active despite the colder temperatures, putting your pet at risk even in winter. Most heartworm prevention also protects against intestinal parasites, making year-round prevention essential in NYC.
Myth 5: Heartworm disease is preventable with flea and tick preventive medication.
Some flea and tick preventives on the market can protect your pet against a variety of parasites, but they do not all protect against heartworms. However, some heartworm preventives can protect against intestinal parasites, fleas, or ticks. Our veterinary health care team can prescribe a heartworm preventive best suited for your pet and her lifestyle after she has been tested and found negative for heartworm disease.
Myth 6: My pet’s fecal test result was negative, so she doesn’t need a heartworm test.
The fecal test and the heartworm test serve different purposes and target different parasites. The standard fecal test targets intestinal parasites, such as tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms, or parasites that live in the digestive tract. Heartworms live in the animal’s heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. The test used to detect heartworms targets the heartworm proteins that exist in an infected animal’s bloodstream.
Myth 7: Only dogs can get heartworm disease.
Although dogs more commonly contract heartworm disease, cats can be diagnosed with the disease, too. Heartworm disease affects cats and dogs differently, and treatment and management vary for each species. Cats are not an ideal host for heartworms, so they typically become infected with only a few heartworms that cannot reproduce. Some cats can resolve the disease on their own, but, because heartworm disease is hard to detect in cats and the signs often go unnoticed, sometimes the first sign a cat is infected with heartworm disease is sudden death.
Myth 8: It’s OK to miss a month of my pet’s heartworm preventive.
Skipping a dose or giving a dose of your pet’s heartworm preventive late exposes her to the risk of contracting heartworm disease. Immature heartworms take six months to develop into 12-inch, spaghetti-like adults while inside their host, and signs of heartworm disease in dogs usually don’t appear until that time.
Questions about heartworm disease? Is your pet protected with a regular heartworm preventive? Contact us to ensure your dog or cat is safe from this potentially deadly disease.