by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Better Late Than Never
Have you ever had to send a belated birthday card to someone? You knew the date well, but somehow, you just never got the card in the mail to arrive on the correct day. Our busy lives sometimes interfere with our best intentions.
Informed dog owners know that the first week in June, each year, in our area, is the time to begin heartworm preventive medicine. Protection for their pet against this mosquito spread disease should continue, until November. Well, here we are in the first week of July. If you missed the June start up of medicine for your pet, is it too late for some belated action on your part?
The answer is NO. It's not too late for a number of things you may wish to consider. Many dog owners schedule a spring visit to their veterinarian to coincide with their pet's need for a weigh-in and pick-up of heartworm medication. It may be the time for the dog to receive a general physical examination and have an update of any vaccination protection required. It is probably the best time to receive immunization against diseases their dog is more likely to be exposed to in the spring and summer seasons. This would include diseases like Lyme disease, leptospirosis and infectious tracheobronchitis or kennel cough. It is also the time a blood test can be run to be sure your pet was not infected in the previous year with heartworm parasites. Very often it is recommended that if your dog has this test done it is an excellent time to have some other wellness testing done on the blood sample. These tests are very similar to the ones we have done as a part of a thorough check-up by our family doctor. Well, it's certainly not too late get these benefits for your pet.
Also, remember that the medicines we give dogs to protect against heartworm infection also are able to eliminate or control a number of other intestinal parasites. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms are examples of such parasites. Proper control of these worms is important for the health of both the dog and the human members of the family. Certain of the heartworm preventive medicines are effective against ear mites and skin parasites that can affect our pets. It is not too late to be sure your pet does not have to deal with any of these threats.
While we are speaking about parasites, we must not forget about fleas. Yes, at least in our practice, most dog owners who choose once-a-month medicines to prevent heartworm disease, choose the medicines that protect against fleas as well. Of course, flea problems can begin as soon as the warm weather arrives in the spring. However, the flea season usually is at its worst later in the summer and fall. Therefore, it certainly is not too late to initiate some measures to protect your pet against this pesky little parasite.
Now this is the other important thing to remember if that first week in June deadline caught you off guard this year. When you administer heartworm medicine to your pet it is able to kill migrating heartworm larvae that were injected into your dog's body by an infected mosquito in the previous 30 - 40 days. The medicines eliminate this larval stage of the parasite's life cycle, as they move through body tissues, along blood vessels, migrating toward the heart. They are killed before they are able to develop into an adult worm living in a dog's heart. The medicines work after an infection has occurred and therefore, to be protective, do not need to be present in the dog's body before the parasite first infects the dog. This means if you get the medicine started in July rather than June you are still protecting against any infection that occurred back into May. This is especially significant in a year like this one when the cold weather earlier in the spring meant mosquitoes were not a great problem. Begin now and you can still protect your pet through more than 83% of the heartworm season. It really is a case of better late than never.