3 simple strategies to talk heartworms

August 24, 2018
Ronald Hamilton, BSc, DVM

Add some oomph to your heartworm prevention conversations with these tips.

This inexpensive food can be a powerful tool for client education. | Shutterstock.com

If your heartworm prevention conversations feel a bit stale, use these quick tips to protect pets against this dangerous killer.

1. Use cooked spaghetti as an example. Pet owners are often surprised to learn that heartworms can range in size from 4 to 12 inches and look like cooked spaghetti wrapping through the heart. Dogs are a natural host for heartworms, which means that the worms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring.

If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. You can drive this point home by showing pet owners an entire box of cooked spaghetti in a clear glass jar, representing the magnitude of heartworm infestation.

2. Explain the mosquito bite phenomenon. Sometimes pet owners need a better understanding of how heartworm disease is transmitted, and explaining the worm's life cycle can help. I recommend adapting information from the American Heartworm Society.

3. Teach cat owners about the gravity of infection. Remind pet owners that heartworm can be sneaky in cats. Tell them to watch for signs, including coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite or weight loss. Remind them that there's no treatment for cats, so they should contact your practice as soon as they notice any signs or suspect a problem. Cat owners are always under the impression that because cats are indoors, they are not susceptible to heartworms. But-spoiler alert-mosquitos fly into homes! Visual aids like an emailed video link showing what cats look like with heartworm-caused respiratory distress, or having a video explaining the transmission process on in the lobby or exam rooms is a big help in demonstrating the effect heartworms can have, particularly for the cats.

Ronald Hamilton, BSc, DVM, owns Gulf Coast Veterinary Center in Tampa and Spring Hill, Florida.