Heartworm: One Bite, One Infection, That’s Enough

chihuahua / heartworm

Pet owners share some common misperceptions about the importance of monthly heartworm medications. So here’s a public service announcement that could save your pet’s life.

Heartworm infections have been diagnosed in all 50 states of the United States. Dog-to-dog transmission has been documented in 49 (good job, Alaska). Heartworms are presumed to be rampant in wild canids (such as wolves), which act as a holding tank for the infection.

Every single dog that ever goes outside is at risk for receiving a bite from a mosquito and subsequently is at risk for contracting heartworm disease. This includes tiny little Chihuahuas that never leave their owner’s arms and dogs that just go to the dog park once in a while. One bite, one infection, that’s enough.

Mosquitoes do not generally do their mosquito thing when temperatures reach below 50 degrees F. That being said, with erratic and warming temperatures, we are seeing temperatures often climbing above this threshold even in the late fall months and early spring.

Some clients suggest that they stop medicating their pet in September and begin again in March or April. This is a not an effective strategy. There are often warmer temperatures late in the year, and the mosquitoes do not care what month it is.

Heartworm protection is easy to give and relatively cheap. There are many different brands from which to choose and different rebates offered for bulk buying. If one buys a year’s worth, it generally comes out to about $10 a month. The cost of treating heartworms is substantial (especially with bigger dogs). It would surpass the cost of heartworm preventative for your dog’s whole life. Treatment for heartworm also is long, can be painful, and in some cases can be fatal.

Though some breeds, including collies, are known to have reactions to heartworm medication, the medication is generally safe and without complications for most dogs.

There are some homeopathic, more natural insecticides that can help fend off mosquitoes, but there is not one specifically designed to prevent heartworms. Your dog is at risk without heartworm medication.

So what should you do?

The safest thing to do is to make sure that your dog is on heartworm preventative all year long. If you live in a state, such as California, that doesn’t see heartworm disease very often, but you travel with your dog to environments with the disease, your dog is at risk and should be tested. In fact, every dog should be tested once a year to confirm that heartworm disease is not present.

Also, just a quick note that heartworm can be transmitted to cats (though this is rare) and humans (though this is even rarer). Mostly canids, wild and domestic, are at risk.

If your dog is not current on a heartworm test, or if you need heartworm preventative, or if you have any questions or concerns, let us know.

Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic

Resident Caterpillars Aid in Monarch Butterfly Conservation

monarch caterpillars

We are excited to introduce you to our two monarch caterpillars on display, Logan and Pilsen! This fall, Veterinary Behavior at Illinois and Medical District Veterinary Clinic at Illinois are teaming up to promote the conservation of one of our favorite insects—the monarch butterfly.

monarch butterflyThis captivating insect is not only a beautiful summer guest of Midwestern fields and gardens, it is also an international traveler. Every year several generations of monarchs will reproduce and live their two- to three-month lifespans in the Midwestern U.S. and Canada, and every fall the fifth generation will travel 1,500 miles south to Central Mexico. This migratory generation lives a total of eight to nine months and spends the winter in the pine forests of central Mexico, then travels back to the southern U.S. to reproduce and lay eggs. Their offspring then head further north and the cycle repeats.

While adult monarch butterflies will feed off of various species of flowers, the monarch caterpillar will only eat one type of plant—the milkweed. Unfortunately, habitat loss due to development and agricultural practices in the U.S. has eliminated large tracts of milkweed and resulted in a decline in the monarch butterfly population. Compounding the problem, deforestation has destroyed several of the monarch’s overwintering sites in Mexico, so fewer butterflies make the journey back to the U.S. to reproduce each spring. Our Midwestern population of monarch butterflies is now severely threatened.

Fortunately, there are many ways we can all help the monarch butterflies:

  1. monarch butterfly eggsPlant the monarch’s host plant, the milkweed. The more milkweed available, the more monarchs will reach adulthood. There are several species of milkweed and attractive options for the home garden are the swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, and whorled milkweed.
  2. Plant nectar plants for adult monarch caterpillars. They need plenty of nectar to reproduce and make their long journey south. Favorites of monarchs include Echinacea, Liatris, and Solidago (Goldenrod).
  3. Collect and raise monarch caterpillars indoors. While only 1 in 10 eggs will survive to adulthood outdoors due to predation, 9 in 10 eggs raised indoors will survive to adulthood. To successfully raise monarch caterpillars you will need plenty of milkweed, as these caterpillars are hungry! Monarch Watch offers excellent tips to help you get started rearing monarchs.

If you would like to learn more or are interested in visiting our caterpillars, Logan and Pilsen, please stop by our clinic.

Kelly Ballantyne, DVM, DACVB
Veterinary Behavior at Illinois