Pets at risk for heartworm disease following recent flooding

Pets at risk for heartworm disease following recent flooding.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Veterinarians say the recent invasion of mosquitoes caused by flooding left from last month’s storms is impacting pets.

Local vets say the chances of your furry friend getting heartworm now is higher than ever. Therefore, veterinarians are urging you to protect your animals now before it’s too late.

Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets. Dr. Isabelle Ying at Myrtle Beach Animal Hospital and other local vets say it’s extremely common in our area.

Heartworms are parasitic worms that live in the heart and lungs of infected animals. The infection can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body. Mosquitoes are primary carriers of the disease and they thrive in bodies of standing water, which is what many parts of our area are dealing with after the recent storms.

The good news is that heartworm disease is preventable. Prevention is often as easy as giving your pet a pill every month or a shot that’s good for six months.

“When heartworm disease gets really bad, you’ll start seeing coughing, difficulties breathing, you can see fluid buildup in the abdomen, but those are the pets who are really sick. And they can cause long-term damage to the heart and to the lungs. Usually we like to catch the parasite before it starts to make their pets, causing any long-term damage,” said Dr. Ying.

You might be thinking your pet is safe if they primarily stay indoors, but that’s not the case. Dr. Ying says all it takes is one mosquito bite, then the cost of treatment starts. It’s not cheap either; you can expect a bill from $600 to $800.

If left untreated, heartworm can be fatal. In the early stages of the disease, many animals show few or no symptoms at all. Dr. Ying said that’s because it takes around six months for the parasite to fully develop once your pet is initially bitten. The National Heartworm Association recommends testing your pet at least once a year.

If you don’t have your pet on heartworm prevention already, Dr. Ying recommends testing them at least twice a year to catch any infections early.

"The treatment is pretty extensive. We inject a medication into the pet called Melarsomine. It can be very, very taxing on the pet. It also takes a few months to complete the treatment. We also pair it with steroid medications to help prevent anaphylactic reactions, as well as an antibiotic called doxycycline to kill off the bacteria that lives with the adult worms to prep them for the killing process,” said Dr. Ying.

Vets recommend starting your pet on preventative medicine as early as eight to nine weeks old. If you're adopting animals at the shelter during this time of year, it's also important to test your pets a few months after adoption as well.

“The shelters will test for heartworm disease, but you don’t know if they were on a preventative beforehand or if they were previously infected. So even if your pet is tested negative at the shelter and shelter starts them on a heartworm preventative. It’s very important that we test them again 6 months later to confirm that negative diagnosis,” said Dr. Ying.

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