Parasite Prevention and Screening for Dogs 101


Halloween isn’t the only time for creepy crawlies. Cost of treatment can be expensive and some diseases can lead to serious illness. Just as bad, many of these diseases can be transmitted to people the very same way our pets get them.

Our Site and DogsandTicks.com are looking out for your whole family with tips for parasite and disease prevention, ways you can test your preventive-health prowess, questions to ask your veterinarian about preventive-health screenings and prevalence maps of some of the most-common pet-health infections. Check out these quick parasite prevention tips from the Companion Animal Parasite Council and Dr. Ruth MacPete, then learn more about parasites A-Z below:

  • Deworm your pets according to your veterinarian’s recommendations
  • Keep your pets on monthly year-round parasite preventatives
  • Take your pet to the veterinarian annually for routine parasite screenings
  • Wash your hands after any exposure to soil, sandboxes, and raw meat
  • Don’t let children eat dirt or food that has fallen to the ground
  • Pick-up after your pet and keep your yard free of feces
  • Cover sandboxes and play areas

Parasites 101

By Dr. Ruth MacPete

All dogs and cats are at risk for parasites. External parasites like fleas and ticks are usually easy to spot if you know what to look for, but others, like intestinal parasites and heartworm, can easily go undetected. Learn the basics about protecting your whole family from parasites. Read more>

Intestinal Parasites and Dogs

Reviewed By Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC

These harder-to-detect parasites can cause issues from weight-loss, to diarrhea, to human infection. Find out what you need to know about common intestinal parasites, which ones to ask your veterinarian about and how to protect your whole family. Read more>

Fleas and Dogs

By Dr. Ruth MacPete

Although fleas can be a year-round problem depending on where you live or whether they have settled inside your home, summer marks the peak of flea season. Get the facts about preventing, detecting and getting rid of these pesky parasites. Read more>

Heartworm and Dogs

Reviewed By Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM

Mosquitoes can carry the Heartworm parasite, a dangerous and common parasite that can affect your dog's heart and other organs. Get the facts on Heartworm prevalence, screening and prevention to keep your pup safe. Read more>

Dogs and Ticks

Reviewed By Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM

Ticks are more than just creepy; they can spread a number of different diseases that affect both pets and people. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, tularemia, and babesia. So what can you do to protect your pets and your family from tick-borne diseases? Read more>

Cats and Parasites

Reviewed By Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM

Are you a proud cat parent as well? Don't forget that kitties need protection against many of the same parasites as dogs. Read more>

Parasites 101

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Reviewed on:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Heartworm 101

As residents of Arizona, it once seemed that heartworm disease was not a big problem for our furry family members. It was easy for us to assume our furry family members are protected from heartworm disease since mosquitos are typically found in wet climates. However, the fact is that heartworm cases have increased exponentially over the last several years, having been documented in all 50 states – including a record of 397 positive cases right here in Maricopa County in 2018. With this in mind, we wanted to share some information about heartworm disease in order to help you make informed decisions on these important areas that impact the health and wellness of your pet.

What exactly is heartworm disease? Heartworm is a serious parasitic disease found primarily in dogs and cats. In reality, we are talking about actual worms, and potentially many of them (up to several hundred!). The worms can be up to a foot-long and live directly within the heart or the neighboring large blood vessels for years. As heartworm disease advances, it can result in a myriad of health complications for our pets including severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs, and can even be fatal.

How does a pet get heartworm? All it takes is a bite from a mosquito that is carrying the disease. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is a carrier of the disease, which is why prevention is the best protection we can give to our pets.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease? Although there are minimal symptoms in the beginning stages, the longer the infection is present the more likely symptoms will arise. The most common symptoms are coughing, fatigue and decreased appetite. Because symptoms are usually well hidden in the early stages, prevention is key to help avoid the life-long impact that heartworm disease can have on our pets.

How do we prevent heartworm disease? Heartworm prevention is as easy as a monthly oral or topical medication that you can pick up at your next appointment. Heartworm medications cannot prevent infection from occurring but instead treats the disease by clearing out any existing heartworm larvae that were transmitted since their last monthly treatment. We also recommend an annual blood test to help ensure that the preventative is working as expected. With an annual test at our hospital combined with your commitment to providing the monthly preventatives at home, we have the best shot of protecting your pet from this preventable disease.

Why you should incorporate a heartworm preventative into your pet’s wellness plan:
We understand that adding a heartworm preventative can feel like a big step, adding a little bit of expense and time each month. However, prevention is incredibly easy in comparison to the alternative – once your pet is infected with heartworms, treatment is costly and difficult for both you, and especially, your pet. Treatment includes antibiotics, steroids, preventatives, and monthly injections to kill the adult worms, as well as hospitalization for your pet, and ongoing treatment and testing.

Talk with us at your next appointment for more information on the preventative options for your pet. As always, we’re here to be your trusted partner to help ensure that your pet’s healthcare plan provides them with a happy and healthy life by your side! Find an AZPetVet location near you.


Heartworm Disease

Heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially fatal, parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets. It can also infect a variety of wild animals, including wild canids (e.g., foxes, wolves, coyotes), wild felids (e.g. tigers, lions, pumas), raccoons, opossums, and pinnipeds (e.g., sea lions and seals), as well as others. There have been documented human infections, but they are thought to be rare and do not usually result in signs of illness.

How is heartworm transmitted and what does it cause?

Heartworms can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms called microfilariae enter into that mosquito’s system. Within two weeks, the microfilariae develop into infective larvae inside the mosquito these infective larvae can be transmitted to another animal when this mosquito takes its next blood meal. Unlike dogs, infected cats do not often have microfilariae circulating in their blood, and an infected cat is not likely to transfer the heartworm infection to another mosquito.

The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in approximately six months. During the first three months, the larvae migrate through the animal’s body, eventually reaching the blood vessels of the lungs. During the last three months, the immature worms continue to develop and grow to adults, with females growing to lengths of up to 14 inches. The worms damage the blood vessels, and reduce the heart’s pumping ability, resulting in severe lung and heart disease. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it is called heartworm disease.

If adult worms (5-7 months post-infection) of both sexes are present, they will mate and produce new microfilariae. The microfilariae can cause the animal’s immune system to mount a reaction this immune reaction can actually cause damage to other organs. This life cycle continues when a mosquito bites the infected animal and becomes infected by the microfilariae. After development
of the microfilariae to infective larvae within the mosquito (10 days to 2 weeks later) the infective heartworm larvae are capable of infecting another animal. Adult heartworms can survive for 5 to 7 years in dogs and several months to years in cats.

Where are heartworms found?

All dogs and cats are susceptible to heartworm infection.

Geographically, heartworms are a potential threat in every state as well as in many other countries around the world. All dogs, regardless of age, sex, or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm infection. Indoor, as well as outdoor, cats are also at risk for the disease. If you plan to travel with your dog or cat to a different part of the country, or another country, ask your veterinarian about the risk of heartworm infection in the area where you are going to relocate or visit.

What pets should be tested for heartworm?

Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, any pet exposed to mosquitoes should be tested. This includes pets that only go outside occasionally. Remember that mosquitoes can also get into homes, putting indoor-only pets at risk as well.

How can I tell if my pet has heartworm infection or disease?

DOGS: If your dog has been recently or mildly infected with heartworms, he/she may show no signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in the lungs and signs of heartworm disease are observed. As the disease progresses, your dog may cough, become lethargic, lose his/her appetite or have difficulty breathing. You may notice that your dog seems to tire rapidly after only moderate exercise.

Blood tests are performed by your veterinarian to detect the presence of adult heartworm infection (> 6 month old infections) in your dog. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult female heartworms, and antibody tests determine if your pet has been exposed to heartworms. The antigen test is most commonly performed, and is very accurate in dogs. Further tests, such as chest radiographs (x-rays), a blood profile and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound
of the heart), may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, to evaluate the severity of the disease, and to determine the best treatment plan for your dog.

CATS: Signs of possible heartworm disease in cats include coughing, respiratory distress, and vomiting. In some cases, a cat may suddenly die from heartworms.

The diagnosis of heartworm infection in cats is more difficult than it is with dogs. A series of different tests may be needed to help determine the likelihood of heartworm infection as the cause of your cat’s illness and, even then, the results may not be conclusive. In general, both antigen and antibody tests are recommended for cats to give the best chances of detecting the presence of heartworms.

How can my pet be treated?

Heartworm is a progressive, life-threatening disease. The earlier it is detected and treated, the better the chances that your pet will recover and have less complications.

DOGS: As with most medical problems, it is much better to prevent heartworm infection than to treat it. However, if your dog does become infected with heartworms, treatment is available. There is substantial risk involved in treating a dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely in dogs that are in good health and when you carefully
follow your veterinarian’s instructions.

The goal of heartworm treatment is to kill the adult worms and microfilariae present in your dog, as safely as possible. However, when a dog is treated it is important to consider that heartworms are dying inside the dog’s body. While your dog is treated, it will require complete rest throughout hospitalization and for some time following the last treatment. Additionally, other medications may be necessary to help control the body’s inflammatory reaction as the worms die and are broken down in the dog’s lungs.

CATS: There is currently no effective and safe medical treatment for heartworm infection or heartworm disease in cats. If your cat is diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian may recommend medications to reduce the inflammatory response and the resulting heartworm disease, or surgery to remove the heartworms.

Can heartworms be surgically removed?

Surgical removal of heartworms from dogs and cats is a high-risk procedure and is typically reserved for severe cases. However, in many cases surgical removal of heartworms may be necessary to afford the best opportunity for the pet’s survival.

Can heartworm disease be prevented?

Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats. There are several FDA-approved heartworm preventives available in a variety of formulations. Your veterinarian can recommend the best method of prevention based upon your pet’s risk factors and lifestyle. Of course, you have to remember to give your pet the preventive in order for it to work!

The preventives do not kill adult heartworms, and will not eliminate heartworm infection or prevent signs of heartworm disease if adults are present in the pet’s body. Therefore, a blood test for existing heartworm infection is recommended before beginning a prevention program to assess the pet’s current heartworm status. Because it is more difficult to detect heartworms in cats, additional testing may be necessary to make sure the cat is not infected.

The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year.

Testing must then be repeated at appropriate intervals. The next test should be performed about 6 months after starting the preventive treatment, to confirm that your pet was not infected prior to beginning prevention (remember, tests only detect adult worms). Heartworm tests should be performed annually to ensure that your pet doesn’t subsequently become infected with the disease and to ensure the appropriate amount of medication is being prescribed and administered. There have been reports of pets developing heartworm infection despite year-round treatment with a heartworm preventive, so having your pet tested regularly is the best way to keep them protected.

Ferrets and heartworm

Ferrets, even those kept indoors, are also at risk of heartworm infection. The signs are similar to those seen in dogs, but they develop more rapidly. Just one worm can cause serious disease in a ferret. Your veterinarian can prescribe heartworm medication approved for use in ferrets. The American Heartworm Society recommends year-round prevention for ferrets.

For more information about heartworm, visit the American Heartworm Society’s website.


Parasite Prevention and Screening for Dogs 101 - pets

By Dr. Tracy Appelbaum, Medical Director, Partner

Finally, Spring is right around the corner. That means warmer weather, longer days and unfortunately those pesky mosquitos are back to cause trouble. Not only are they annoying to people but they act as the major transmitters for heartworm disease to our family pets. This disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets but can affect other mammals as well. Currently, heartworm disease is found in all 50 states.

The disease is caused by worms that live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of infected animals and cause damage to their organs. The dog is the primary host for heartworms and as the worms mature they can mate and produce offspring to then be picked up by mosquitos and transmitted to other animals through a bite. Cats are atypical hosts for heartworm disease and often will have much smaller worm burdens than dogs with few worms ever maturing to the adult stage. However, even with these smaller numbers cats can still have significant respiratory issues resulting from infection and can be harder to diagnose.

Signs of heartworm infection range from nothing at all to cough, fatigue, weight loss, and lack of appetite. As symptoms progress animals can start to show signs of heart failure and can unfortunately die from this disease. Thankfully, your veterinarian can perform a fairly simple blood test right in the hospital to determine whether your family pet is infected or not.

It is far easier to prevent heartworm infection than it is to treat the disease. In fact, treatment for heartworm disease is expensive and not without possible complications. It also requires hospitalization for your pet. Currently, there is no drug approved for treatment of feline heartworm disease and the drug used in dogs is not safe to administer to a cat.

Administration of heartworm prevention is recommended in dogs year-round to not only help prevent heartworm disease but to control other gastrointestinal parasites and increase compliance. Heartworm medication is safe, effective and inexpensive. The pharmacy at Rocky Gorge always has these medications on hand and it is very conveniently sold in multi packs to ensure you never miss a dose for your pet. If you have missed more than 2 months of prevention it is important to have your pet retested prior to administering any more medication.


What should I know about my senior dog?

So, you just used the AAHA Canine Life Stage Calculator to determine that your dog is in the senior stage of life. Knowing your dog’s life stage helps you provide a lifetime of optimal care.

A dog’s life can be divided into four stages: puppy, young adult, mature adult, and senior. The stages are based on a dog’s maturation and aging process. Because dogs evolve as they mature, they require different approaches to healthcare as they progress from puppy to senior. In fact, there are at least 10 health-related factors based on age, size, lifestyle, health status, and breed that your veterinary team regularly assesses to keep your dog healthy, happy, and safe.

When you understand your dog’s life stage, you and your veterinary team become partners in providing your dog with an individualized healthcare approach to every veterinary visit, resulting in the lifetime of optimal care your dog needs and deserves!

Senior dog care 101

There is a saying in veterinary medicine: “Old age is not a disease.” Yes, your dog is now a senior. But that doesn’t mean they have to stop living an enriched, healthy, comfortable life. Senior dogs often develop many of the same age-related issues seen in older people, but good preventive healthcare can keep these years golden! Your dog should have a physical exam at least twice a year, including routine bloodwork and additional screening tests if needed.

Your veterinarian will continue to perform thorough physical exams on your senior dog. This includes taking your dog’s temperature and checking their body and muscle condition, skin, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal system, urinary system, brain, nerves, bones, joints, and lymph nodes. Now that your dog is in the senior life stage, tell your veterinarian about your dog’s mobility and activity at home. This will help detect early signs of orthopedic disease and arthritis.

Below are some topics specific to your dog’s senior life stage you’ll want to discuss with the veterinary team.

Your senior dog’s lifestyle and safety

Just like humans, your dog’s sense of awareness and ability to see, hear, and move may not be as good as it once was. Sometimes little changes in their environment go a long way. Your veterinarian may recommend making adaptations in your home, on walks, or getting into and out of the car. How you play with your dog may change, too, such as choosing to play in your yard, rather than going to dog parks. Talk to your veterinarian about daily exercise (both mental and physical) and ways to keep your dog safe and comfortable.

All dogs, regardless of their life stage, must travel safely and with minimal stress. Call your veterinarian prior to your dog’s visit to learn how to acclimate your dog to travel and determine the most effective way to transport them.

Infections between humans and animals

Infections transmitted between humans and animals are called zoonoses. They are transmitted in different ways, such as bites, raw food, and feces, so talk to your veterinary team about disease prevention. Let the veterinary team know if there are children, elderly, or immune-compromised family members who may have exposure to your dog.

Senior dog behavior

Your veterinarian is the best resource for accurate and current information regarding your senior dog’s behavior. Discuss any changes you have noticed in your dog’s relationship with you, family members, other animals, and people. Does your dog seem antisocial or “grumpy”? Share any behavior concerns you have about your dog’s cognition (i.e., mental awareness or attitude). Many issues can be addressed and corrected with early intervention of medical, dietary, or pain management.

Your senior dog’s nutrition

The amount and type of food you feed your senior dog is important for many reasons. Excess calories lead to excess weight and poor muscle condition, which makes moving aging joints difficult. More than 50% of dogs suffer from obesity and obesity-related illnesses. Maintaining an ideal weight and body condition will help keep your senior dog active.

Also, your senior dog may have a medical condition that is effectively managed by food with specific nutrient levels. Many people have opinions about the best food to feed dogs, but your veterinarian has the most medical training when it comes to your dog’s nutrition, so let them help you. Together, you can choose a quality food with targeted nutrition and calories based on your senior dog’s needs.

Supplements can help senior dogs maintain a good quality of life. If you use supplements, such as CBD, or are considering it, be sure to discuss this with your veterinary team so they can help you make the safest choices for your pet.

Parasites and senior dogs

Parasites, including intestinal parasites, heartworms, ticks, and fleas, affect dogs of all ages. Your senior dog needs a year-round medicine to prevent intestinal parasites, which are found in your dog’s feces and can be transmitted to humans, so talk to your veterinarian about how to keep everyone in your home protected. Keep your senior dog’s heartworm preventive as well as flea and tick control updated. Once a year, you can expect your senior dog to be tested for tick-borne infection, heartworm disease, and intestinal parasites.

Vaccinations for senior dogs

Given to keep your dog’s immune system strong to fight against infection, vaccinations are a crucial component to keeping your senior dog healthy. Several vaccines likely were administered routinely throughout your dog’s life as the primary defense against serious infectious illnesses. Depending on your senior dog’s vaccine history, lifestyle changes, and risk of exposure to disease, your veterinarian may adjust your dog’s vaccine schedule or recommend antibody titer testing to determine protection from a few specific viral infections. Your veterinarian will advise which vaccines are necessary to keep your dog healthy.

Your senior dog’s teeth

Even senior dogs can have healthy mouths and good breath! Periodontal disease can be prevented through proper home care and regular dental examinations by your veterinarian. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to chronic pain, infection, and poor quality of life. Because so many dogs are affected by dental disease, your veterinarian will perform an oral exam during your visit and design a dental health plan based on the exam findings. The plan may require anesthesia to obtain X-rays to further evaluate and treat periodontal disease. If you have concerns about anesthesia, tell the veterinary team. They will be happy to answer any questions.

It’s never too late to talk about home dental care. Maximize your dog’s health and ask your veterinary team about dental products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) to keep your dog’s mouth in tip-top shape.

Your senior dog’s reproductive health

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough reproductive exam, regardless if your senior dog is spayed, neutered, or intact. During the exam, your veterinarian will look at your dog’s prostate, mammary glands, and other reproductive organs to ensure they are in good health.

Breed-specific information for senior dogs

There are breed-specific health concerns that can affect your senior dog’s quality of life. At your visit, your veterinarian will continue to screen for cancer and orthopedic, kidney, liver, heart, gland, and eye abnormalities that may be breed-related. Early detection is one of the most effective ways to keep your senior dog healthy and bright!

Understanding your senior dog’s unique needs is a great way to help them maintain a good quality of life throughout their golden years. Looking for a veterinarian for your dog? Find an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital here.


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