North Country Veterinary Services, P.C.

4592 US Route 11
Pulaski, NY 13142


 Heartworm Disease, Fleas and Ticks


As spring time approaches so does mosquito and heartworm season.  Due to our warm wet season mosquitoes are a large problem in our area.  With mosquitoes come the diseases they transmit.  One major disease mosquitoes spread to our pets is heartworm.  Heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis, is a blood parasite that lives in the blood stream of dogs and cats.  The adult heartworm is approximately 10-14 inches long and lives in the pulmonary arteries and right side of the heart.  Adults give live birth to baby worms called microfilaria (first larval stage) that circulate in the bloodstream.  When a mosquito feeds on a dog infected with heartworm, the mosquito ingests the microfilariae.  Inside the gut of the mosquito they develop into the next larval stage.  When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, larvae are transmitted to this pet.  Once the larvae reach the blood stream they continue to mature and travel to the right side heart an pulmonary arteries, where they develop into adults.  The entire live cycle of a heartworm after being transmitted to its new host is approximately 5-7 months.  The presence of worms in the heart and vessels causes a strong inflammatory response.  Large numbers of worms cause the heart to work harder pumping blood through the clogged arteries.  Early clinical signs of heartworm disease are coughing and exercise intolerance.

Currently there are monthly preventatives that protect both cats and dogs from developing heartworm disease.  When given monthly, the medication kills larval stages, preventing the development of adults and the transmission of larval stages.  Heartworm medication also provides control of common gastrointestinal parasites.  Both indoor and outdoor pets should be protected from heartworm infection.  Although the mosquito season is May through November, year round prevention may be recommended in certain circumstances.  Puppies can be started on prevention as young as 8 weeks of age.  Dogs older that 6 months should be tested prior to starting heartworm prevention.  Dogs on seasonal prevention (May-November) should be tested before restarting prevention in the spring.  Dogs on year-round prevention should be tested periodically to monitor product efficacy.  If your dog tests positive for heartworm there is treatment if the infection is detected early enough.  Your veterinarian will discuss with you which treatment is most appropriate for your pet.  In 2010, NCVS in Pulaski and Oswego had 35 heartworm positive dogs and 6 heartworm related deaths.

Heartworm disease in cats is very different than it is in dogs.  Cats are not natural hosts for the heartworm like dogs are.  A cat's immune system is very reactive against microfilaria.  Rarely will larval heartworms make it through a cat's skin to the bloodstream and heart.  If a cat becomes infected with heartworm the infection typically consists of only a few worms.  However, a few worms can cause a lot of damage in a cats small vessels and heart.  Most symptoms in cats with heartworm tend to be more immune-related than heart failure related.  Heartworms survive in cats for 2-3 years and are very difficult to treat without harming the cat.  Prevention is the easiest and safest way to protect your cat.  Please consult with one of our doctors to determine the appropriate preventative measures for your cat.


As flea season quickly approaches us, we would like to remind you to be prepared.  Many animals exposed to fleas develop an allergy to the flea's saliva.  One flea can cause severe itching all over the animals body, especially the back and hindquarter region.  Many cats develop scabs all over their backs and begin to tear out their fur.  Dogs also begin chewing, pulling out their fur, and severely damaging their skin.  Along with flea treatment these allergic animals may need steroids to treat the allergic reaction and antibiotics to treat the skin infection caused by their chewing and scratching.  Currently over the counter products are not very effective and some are toxic to cats.  With so many different treatments and preventatives available we recommend speaking with one of our Veterinarians to determine which product is most appropriate for your pet.


Pyrethrins are natural extracts from Chrysanthemum (mums) flowers used as insecticides in flea and tick products.  Most products that are made from pyrethrins or pyrethroids contain low doses and are not harmful to mammals.  If ingested pyrethrins are easily broken down by stomach acids and removed from the body.  An exception is spot-on type flea products that contain 45-65% permethrin.  Pyrethrin is NOT the same as permethrin.  Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethrin, and is less easily broken down than pyrethrin.  These products are labeled for dogs only.  Even the smallest amounts can cause neurologic signs and death in cats.  Please be cautious of applying topical medication containing permethrins to dogs that come in contact with cats.  Also be sure your are using topical medication that do not contain permethrins on cats.  If your cat is exposed either topically or by ingestion please seek immediate medical treatment.  Pyrethrins can be used on cats;  permethrins should NOT be used on cats.


Ticks are becoming an increasing problem in our area of Oswego County.  If your pets are outside it is important to routinely check them for ticks.  They usually attach around the head/chest and legs of our dogs and cats.   If a tick is found, simply remove them with a pair of tweezers grabbing them as close to the skin as possible.  Avoid irritating the tick to cause them to "back out" because the tick may actually regurgitate into your pet before releasing.  This may introduce the tick borne diseases,  such as Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis into your pet.  Discuss the use of tick repellent products on your pet with your North Country Veterinarian especially if you are observing ticks.  Our pets serve as sentinels for possible exposure of ourselves to these potentially disease causing bugs.