Busting Heartworm Myths

While I do not watch the show consistently, I have often found myself sucked into an episode of MythBusters on the Discovery Channel, hanging on every experiment, hypothesis and outcome as if it were the absolute final authority on whatever topic was being “busted”. Almost every day I am asked to de-bunk animal related myths, and while many of these common “myths” are harmless, some can be downright dangerous to your pet. The myths surrounding heartworm disease are ones I consider to have a great potential for harm, mainly because of the serious effects that heartworms can have on dogs and cats. That is why I am “busting” the three most common heartworm myths in this week’s blog.

Myth #1: My pet spends the majority of his time indoors so he doesn’t need heartworm prevention.

False. While the outdoor dog or cat is more likely to be bitten by infected mosquitoes, mosquitoes do come inside looking for a meal and will feed on cats and dogs. Multiple scientific studies have found a significant number of heartworm infections in cats living exclusively indoor. It only takes one mosquito bite to inject the heartworm larva into your pet. I know that I have been bitten by a mosquito while I was inside – surely my dogs and cats have as well!

Myth #2: Mosquitos are only active in the spring and summer, so I don’t have to give heartworm prevention year-round.

False. My friends, this is Texas, and if this winter was any indication, you never know what is going to happen. What is that old saying? “Don’t like the weather in Texas? Wait 5 minutes!” Some are under the impression that a hard freeze or even multiple days of freezing weather will kill mosquitos. It may kill the adult mosquitos, but the eggs are pretty sturdy little buggers and can lay dormant for up to two years! They are just waiting for that hint of moisture or slightly warmer day to hatch and start the process of becoming those pesky flying adults. Also, mosquitos are smart and will try to migrate into a warmer spot (aka. inside) when the weather changes to continue feeding. All in all, there is no way to predict where or when those blood-suckers will show up, and that is why we recommend prevention year-round.

Myth #3: Cats don’t get heartworm disease.

False, sort of. It is true that cats do not generally get “heartworm disease” like their canine counterparts. However, this does not mean that they are not affected by the parasite. Cats seem to be more resistant to adult stages of heartworm infection than dogs, but the juvenile stages can cause a significant amount of damage on their own. North Texas has one of the highest incidents of canine heartworm infection in the country, so it is something that we as veterinarians think about when a cat is ill. Signs of heartworm infection in cats include coughing, breathing difficulties, chronic vomiting, lethargy and sudden death, and there is currently no treatment for heartworms once a cat is infected. That is why we strongly recommend year-round heartworm prevention in all of our feline patients.

I really hope this myth busting helped explain some common misconceptions about heartworm disease and prevention. Don’t let your pet become one of the many North Texas animals that falls victim to heartworms! Give us a call today to discuss the heartworm prevention option that is best for your dog or cat! Is your pet already on prevention? Great!! Make sure to give it EVERY month ALL year!!