What you need to know about heartworms this winter



Avon Barksdale, heartworm-positive—adopted

Heartworms are exactly what they sound like—parasitic worms that can affect the heart of your beloved four-legged friend. These parasites can grow up to a foot long and infect the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of both dogs and occasionally cats as well. The primary transmission of heartworms comes from infected mosquitoes. When an animal is infected with heartworms, and bitten by a mosquito, that infected blood can easily be passed onto a new host, starting the heartworm infection all over again.


Although mosquito populations decline during colder months, this doesn’t mean pets can go without heartworm treatment. In fact, the American Heartworm Society recommends that pets in even Northern climates receive heartworm prevention year-round.


So—what are heartworms and why doesn’t the winter weather kill off the parasite?


Doesn’t the cold kill off mosquitoes?


Cold weather definitely impacts the number of mosquitoes seen each year. It’s well known that the warm wet weather we often see in the Lowcountry is a breeding ground for the insect. However, winter doesn’t deter all mosquitoes. In fact, mosquitoes are capable of adapting to cold weather which means the threat of transmission is present all year long. Essentially, you will see fewer mosquitoes than in the summer months, but they will not be completely killed off by cold temperatures in the winter.


My pet doesn’t live outside—do they still need prevention in winter?


Heartworm prevention hasn’t always been recommended for indoor pets year-round. You may have even been told that heartworm prevention may not be necessary during the winter. However, recent findings are prompting more and more veterinarians to prescribe prevention across all seasons.


In fact, the American Heartworm Society also recommends that pets receive heartworm prevention every month for twelve months out of the year. Some heartworm preventatives can also de-worm your pet as well, keeping both you and your pet safe and healthy all year long.


Should I worry about heartworms in my indoor cat?


Unlike dogs, cats make terrible hosts for heartworm infections. But, this does not eliminate the chance of your cat potentially contracting the parasite. Cats are considered atypical hosts for heartworms, according to the American Heartworm Society, and most juvenile worms do not reach adulthood.


Because cats can only carry about one to three worms if they do survive to the adult stage, or juvenile parasites, they often go undiagnosed since the infection can be difficult to detect. Always speak with your veterinarian about heartworm prevention first. This way you can ensure that you’re making the best decision for your feline friend.


Does Renegade Paws Rescue treat heartworm-positive pets?


Yes! Renegade Paws Rescue provides heartworm treatment for heartworm-positive pets in our care and all foster dogs are given heartworm and flea and tick prevention each month to reduce the risk of heartworm infection. Since our foundation, all of the heartworm-positive pets in our care have been dogs that did not receive regular heartworm prevention. Each month, our organization hosts a heartworm treatment clinic. This clinic is a two-day event where dogs receive steroid injections after several weeks of taking oral doxycycline. Pets are then placed on crate rest and limited activity until the infection has cleared.


In order to ensure that all heartworm-positive dogs receive treatment, pets are scheduled months in advance to attend the clinic. This means that pets may be adopted out before they receive treatment. Renegade Paws Rescue thoroughly prepares owners for heartworm treatment through our Renegade community, helpful handouts, and Renegade volunteers who are able to answer any questions regarding the heartworm treatment process.


Heartworms are especially prevalent in shelter pets and our monthly clinic is often overflowing with dogs needing this life-saving care. Heartworm treatment can cost owners thousands of dollars and prevent dogs from finding the perfect home.


Heartworms are a roadblock for both adopters and shelter pets. By eliminating heartworms, we are opening new doors for potential adopters to meet their new best friends.


Cold weather might not eliminate heartworm infections, but we hope that with education and community support, we can continue to fight for heartworm-positive pets of the Lowcountry.


To learn more about heartworms, visit the American Heartworm Society for more information.


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