Heartworm Disease in Urban Areas: Is it Really a Risk?

Looking at a map of heartworm disease in the U.S., it’s easy to see what a threat this condition poses to our pets. Over the last two decades, the incidence of heartworm disease has jumped an average of 6-25 cases per clinic per year in the New York area. Considering how many animal hospitals there are in our region, these statistics are anything but promising.

The best defense against heartworm disease is the timely administration of preventive medication. Without this, the number of cases each year will continue to grow, leaving our best friends exposed to a range of health problems – including death.

Mosquitoes in Brooklyn

Mosquitoes are an ever-present threat to the health of people and pets in Brooklyn and beyond. Just last summer, the New York City Department of Health sprayed more than a dozen Brooklyn neighborhoods with pesticide in an attempt to control the spread of West Nile Virus. Mosquito traps and water pools tested positive for the disease in 17 Brooklyn zip codes.

Vector-Borne

Mosquitoes transfer heartworm disease from animal to animal. Once an infected mosquito deposits the microscopic worms into the bloodstream of a host, it can take about 3 months for the larvae to develop. Without a heartworm preventive to kill off the worms, larvae will grow inside the blood vessels surrounding the heart and lungs, severely compromising the health of a pet.

Why We Test

We test for heartworm disease during annual exams. Without a negative result, it’s highly dangerous for a pet to start heartworm medication.

Even pets who spend all their time inside should be routinely tested and given a monthly dose year-round. Remember, mosquitoes are extremely pesky and can work themselves inside any apartment or house, exposing pets to the disease.

A Positive Result

Many pets won’t display any symptoms of heartworm disease. Once the worms have matured, however, some dogs may develop a cough or have trouble breathing. It’s also common for pets to lose interest in food and to appear weak or lethargic. A previously excitable pet will become tired after minimal exertion.

Cats may vomit, experience severe coughing spells, and display respiratory distress. Some cats may also die suddenly from heartworm disease.

Treatment vs. Prevention

Heartworm-positive dogs can undergo treatment for heartworm disease, but it’s both expensive and risky. Hospitalization, medications, anti-inflammatories, and cage rest for at least a month are all common treatment protocols. Surgery may even be required to remove heartworms from the heart and lungs.

Unfortunately, cats cannot be treated for heartworm disease.  

Preventing heartworm disease is easy. Simply remember to give your pet their monthly dose throughout the whole year. We recommend setting up alerts on your phone or placing stickers on your calendar as a reminder.

Heartworm Disease in the City

Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. While these times are great for walking your dog in the middle of the summer, be mindful of mosquitoes. Likewise, clean up any standing water on your property and ensure that all windows and door screens are free of holes. Stay up-to-date on your pet’s flea and tick medications, as these can also repel mosquitoes.
Please contact us with any questions or concerns. The team at All Creatures Veterinary Hospital of Brooklyn is always here for you and your pet.