Heartworm Disease in Dogs – Serious But Treatable
29 June, 2015
Heartworm disease in dogs is a dangerous disease that starts as a parasite that resides in a dog’s heart and/or arteries of your poor pup. The parasite can travel through the bloodstream and harm arteries and vital organs as they move. The parasite will usually spread throughout your dog’s bloodstream and infect the lung and the heart chamber about six months after the initial infection. Several hundred worms can live in one dog for five to seven years. Heartworm disease is serious, and can be fatal. Yet, the good news is that heartworm disease can be detected in tests by your vet and be treated with medication.
The symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs
Some of the symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs can include labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss and listlessness, and fatigue after only moderate exercise. However, some dogs exhibit no symptoms at all until late stages of infection which is why testing is very important.
If you notice that your dog’s energy has decreased, he or she seems ill or is showing any of the general symptoms described above, please contact your veterinarian immediately. It is always better to be safe and be on top of the disease before it infects your dog.
Heartworm disease is usually diagnosed by your vet
Heartworm disease is diagnosed by examination, radiographs or ultrasound, and a veterinarian-administered blood test. All dogs should be routinely screened with a blood test for heartworm either annually in spring, at the start of mosquito season, or before being placed on a new prescription for a heartworm preventive.
Heartworm is caused by mosquitoes and is very unusual
Heartworms are transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. The lifecycle of the heartworm is hard to gauge as an animal must carry at least two heartworms (a male and a female) in order for female heartworms to reproduce. When the mosquito next bites a susceptible animal, the infective larvae enter the tissues and begin a migration into the blood vessels. And if it resides there long enough without being destroyed, it can start to grow.
Heartworms enter an animal’s bloodstream as tiny, invisible larvae, but can reach lengths of more than twelve inches at maturity.
Dogs that live in humid clients are more susceptible to heartworm disease
Heartworm infestation can happen to any dog (as well as cats and some wild animals), but since mosquitoes are their carriers, dogs who live in hot, humid regions—conditions in which mosquitoes thrive—are at the greatest risk. The disease has been seen in every state except Alaska, but is most common in or on the East Coast, southern United States and Mississippi River Valley.
Heartworm can be prevented by medication prescribed by your veterinarian
The good news is that heartworm is easy preventable with an inexpensive, chewable pill available with a vet’s prescription. The pills—highly palatable to most dogs—are usually administered monthly and manufactured by several companies. The pills can be given to dogs under 6 months of age without a blood test, but older animals must be screened for the disease prior to starting medication. You can opt to give your dog a pill only during mosquito season spring through winter but the most recent recommendation from the American Heartworm Society is to keep giving them all yea. There are also topical products available that you can apply to the skin.
Treatment for heartworm disease
If your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease, a thorough examination of your dog should be taken to determine the best course of treatment and the potential risks involved. The most common course of treatment is a series of injections of drugs that are placed into the dogs’ muscle. This cure has a high success rate and usually requires hospitalization; in certain circumstances, however, it may be performed on an outpatient basis. However, all treatment of heartworm disease usually require many weeks of exercise restriction and might have side effects. Disease prevention is a much better and safer option. After treatment, your dog should be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of infection so it does not reoccur.