Stopping Heartworm Disease in Dogs

A veterinarian offers advice on preventing deadly heartworms in your dog.


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Although treatment of heartworm disease is usually successful, it is expensive and invasive, and no dog or their owner should have to go through it. Despite the fact that essentially 100 percent of dogs exposed to heartworm disease become infected, infection is entirely preventable. Five available medications prevent heartworm infection in dogs: diethylcarbamazine is given by mouth and must be given every day to be effective; ivermectin and milbemycin are given by mouth once a month, and often protect a dog for even longer; moxidectin is given by mouth once a month or by injection every six months; and selamectin is applied topically (on the dogs skin) every month. There is no best heartworm preventative; each has different benefits, and your veterinarian can help you decide which is best for your individual dog.

Veterinarians often vary in their advice regarding when heartworm preventative must be given. Most canine heartworm disease cases occur within 150 miles of the Atlantic coast from Texas to New Jersey, and along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries. Mosquitoes are likely to be active year-round in those regions, and year-round heartworm preventative is recommended. In other areas of the country, several months of the year are too cold for mosquitoes, and some veterinarians recommend heartworm preventative only during warmer months. Because mosquitoes can overwinter indoors and because many dog owners are likely to forget to resume giving their dog heartworm preventative when warmer months come, I recommend giving heartworm preventative year-round, in all climates. 

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Reprinted from Ask the Vet About Dogs, by Leslie Sincliar, DVM © 2003. Permission granted by BowTie Press.

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