Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Think 12 in 2012

by User Not Found | Feb 21, 2012


Irreversible heart damage

Irreversible lung damage

Blood pressure spikes

Pulmonary Thromboembolisms

Severe allergic reactions

Kidney damage

Enlarged heart

Heart Murmur

Reduced blood flow to the brain

Enlarged liver

Sudden death



Sounds fun right?  For the cost of a latte, you could protect your dog from this.  Ask any dog rescuer and they will probably tell you it’s one of, if not the worst, ordeal they have gone through with a foster dog.  Have you guessed it yet?  It’s Heartworm.  Everyone has a kick, you know one of those things they love to talk about, one of those things you’ll jump up on your soapbox and talk about at any given moment.  Well my soap box is heartworm shaped and since the Heartworm Society has just launched their “Think 12 in 2012” campaign to educate pet owners about heartworm prevention, it’s a great excuse to talk about it, again. This year-long campaign will provide information and updates to reach its goal of keeping annual heartworm testing and 12-month prevention awareness top of mind.  See this is fun right?  It’s always more fun when there’s a catchy slogan behind the science.


What is heartworm?  For one thing it’s too cute of a name for such a horrid disease.   I think it should be called the tiny-thing-that-fits-into-a-mosquito-then-makes-its-way-into-tissue-and-eventually-in-to-the-pulmonary-arteries-and-heart-where-it-grows-into-a-white-mass-of-wriggling-pasta-disease.  It may gross you out or intrigue you but either way, use it as motivation to remember to give your dog heartworm prevention every month.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about what exactly heartworm is, there are plenty of reliable sources ( for that information. Instead I’m taking a different angle, though I was never good at geometry, so bear with me.


First we have to understand the difference between heartworm infection and heartworm disease.  Heartworm infection is caused by larvae, which our pets are constantly at risk, but they are protected from Heartworm disease by these medications.  Heartworm disease is caused by adult heartworms in the pulmonary vessels and heart.  I think of a rain storm where the clouds are loud annoying buzzy things and the raindrops are little baby parasites.  Heartworm medications are not umbrellas, they do not keep the rain drops from “falling” on your dog.  These medications are more like windshield wipers where they wipe away the rain drops.  Heartworm medications prevent the two larval stages of heartworm from developing into adult heartworms and causing disease.  These medications are metabolized by the body and that takes about 30 days, hence the monthly pill.  They actually work backwards, eliminating the heartworm your dog may have contracted from the previous 30 days…so essentially “deworming” heartworm.  Fun fact, heartworm tablets, until the 1980’s, had to be given every day because they could only kill off one stage of the baby heartworms.  Now there are topical medications available as well, see how fast the medical world moves, whoosh!  Talk to your veterinarian about the best choice for your pup. 


Heartworm medications are neurotoxins to the heartworm larvae paralyzing their mouthparts and causing them to starve to death.  This may sound harsh but again I go back to the cute name for these little horrid creatures and to that I say good riddance little parasites!!  As an added bonus, these medications also knock out nasty intestinal parasites.  If you’ve ever experienced worms in your dog’s poop, imagine that in their heart!  And yes, it’s really gross.


So what’s with all the talk about microfilaria and baby heartworms and such?  It’s important to understand that dogs can only be infected with heartworm by a mosquito.  Heartworm disease is not contagious from dog to dog or cat to dog or dog to cat and so on.  Adult heartworms produce microfilaria, we’ll call those the babies.  The babies must develop in a mosquito.  The mosquito then infects a dog with larvae, or teenagers.  The teenagers then migrate into the tissue and make their way to the pulmonary vessels and heart and eventually develop into adults.  Adults produce microfilaria (babies), which are released into the blood stream.  The babies circulate in the bloodstream until the dog is bitten by a mosquito and picks them up.  The babies grow to teenagers in the mosquito and then infect the dog when bitten by a mosquito.  Are you dizzy??  That was quite a circle!!  Now you know why it takes so many big guns to take out heartworm…they are a vicious circle!


Hopefully this ties in the importance of giving your loyal companion heartworm every month.  There is obviously plenty more to talk about in the world of heartworm, but we’ll save that for next time.  So remember to “Think 12 in 2012” and next time you are sitting around chatting with your friends, you can dazzle their minds with your knowledge of heartworm.  Use a cute sticker, download an “app”, oh yes there are apps for your smartphone to help you remember to give your dog their monthly pill, so really you don’t have an excuse now do you?


Cheers and Have a Heartworm Free Year!


Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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