Nobody likes the idea of their pet suffering from preventable illnesses like heartworm. It can be especially detrimental to personal protection dogs and other canine athletes — one of the first symptoms many owners recognize is exercise intolerance. While most pet owners know the basic information their veterinarians tell them about heartworm prevention, there are ten things that you may not have considered when it comes to keeping your pet or working animal healthy:
Contracting heartworm is actually pretty difficult.
You may know that mosquitoes are the vector for heartworm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all it takes to get sick is a simple little mosquito bite, however — there’s a lot more to it. Even when temperatures are warm enough for mosquitoes, it may not yet be warm enough for the heartworm larvae themselves. They need a lower limit of 57°F to develop and to become infectious. Temperature and humidity are also crucial during the 10-14 day incubation period within the mosquito, and even after the bite takes place. If it is too cool or too dry, the larvae won’t live long enough to make it through the bite.
Heartworm is not commonly seen in the wild.
Not only is the risk of heartworm not as high as many pet owners assume, but it’s also virtually unknown in wild populations and, even when wild dogs get sick, they don’t commonly show the same wasting symptoms domestic dogs do. Nobody knows exactly why that is, but it’s likely a combination of immune health, diet, exposure to environmental immune suppressants, and good old fashioned natural selection.
There is no preventative for heartworm.
What is most commonly marketed as heartworm preventative medication doesn’t prevent a dog from picking up larvae — it just kills them once they’re introduced. In other words, they are a treatment, not a preventative at all. While this has been effective in the past for preventing full-onset infestations, there are some significant downsides to dosing personal protection dogs with medications for conditions they don’t actually have.
Pesticides have a lot of side effects.
Heartworm medication kills larvae by affecting their nervous systems. Parasites like these have very simple neurology, nothing nearly as complex as a protection dog or a human’s. As a result, personal protection dogs for sale that are given an overdose of heartworm preventative or have an adverse reaction may suffer effects that make them completely unable to work, including:
- Loss of coordination.
- And even death.
Heartworm medications were never designed to be safe for humans.
Veterinary medications are created with dogs in mind, dogs and people metabolize things very, very differently. While heartworm preventatives are considered safe for dogs to take, ingestion by a human adult or child can warrant a call to Poison Control and a trip to the emergency room.
These medications are losing their effectiveness.
Like antibiotics, pesticides have a shelf life. The longer they are in use, the more susceptible organisms are killed off, freeing up resources for the strongest, most resistant individuals to thrive. Many common heartworm preventatives are not nearly as effective as they were years ago. That means that you could be exposing your protection dogs to a risk of side effects without even gaining any real benefit.
That said, heartworm products are guaranteed.
Drug manufacturers guarantee their preventatives, usually for the cost of diagnosis and treatment of an infestation up to a certain limit. The trouble is, it can be virtually impossible to collect on these guarantees — you usually have to be able to provide proof that the medication was used as directed, that the dog was negative at the commencement of the treatment, and that the dog was initially declared heartworm negative using multiple and very specific tests. Unfortunately, most dog owners are unable to comply with these demands, leaving them footing the bill.
The treatment for heartworm disease is rough, but it’s not the only option.
Currently, the standard treatment for this disease is melarsomine dihydrochloride. A full course takes three months, during which your protection dog must be kept crated and given limited activity to prevent infarctions caused by pieces of dead worms. Like other heartworm drugs, melarsomine is also losing effectiveness as time goes on. Fortunately, there are natural options available through a holistic veterinarian. These work via different mechanisms than commonly prescribed pesticides and treatments, which means they may be both gentler and more effective.
Not every state carries the same risk of heartworm.
While cases of this disease have been recorded in every state, it is far less prevalent in some places than in others. The southeastern U.S., from Virginia to Texas, sees the most cases. The northeast, west coast, and midwest see fewer cases. The west, from Colorado to Nevada, and north to Canada, see the fewest. If you live in an area with a relatively low heartworm risk, it may be worth calculating whether using a preventative is worthwhile.
Pharmaceutical companies sponsor the American Heartworm Society.
Even with all of the potential risks of using heartworm medications, few owners are willing to suffer the heartbreak of seeing their animals suffer from a preventable condition. The American Heartworm Society has done a great job of educating people about the aftermath of a heartworm infestation, but they are hardly an unbiased source. The people paying for the AHS to push for heartworm preventative medications are the same ones who make money off of selling them.
Whether you own a dog or are looking for personal protection dogs for sale, you’ve probably put a lot of thought into properly caring for your animals — heartworm prevention included. It can be hard not to be frightened by the information put out by the AHS, but it is up to you to look at the risks and benefits and make the best decisions about your animal’s healthcare.