Heartworm Disease in Dogs – What You Need to Know!
12 July, 2016
Heartworm disease in dogs is a dangerous parasite that resides in a dog’s heart and/or arteries. It usually takes several years before a dog will show the signs of infection and usually occurs in dogs from two to eight years old. The disease is rare in puppies because the microfilariae take five to seven months to mature into adult heartworms after infection. Unfortunately, by the time clinical signs are seen, the disease is usually well advanced.
Dogs suffering from heartworms are infested by the organism, Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic roundworm that is usually referred to as the heartworm. The severity of this disease is dependent upon the number of worms present in the body.
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. Some dogs won’t show any symptoms at all until late stages of infection which is why testing is important. If you notice that your dog’s energy has decrease or is showing any of the general symptoms described above, contact your vet immediately.
Heartworm Disease is caused by mosqutioes
Heartworms are transmitted to your dog by mosquitoes (but they are not contagious). The lifecycle of the heartworm is hard to gauge as a dog must have at least two heartworms (a male and a female) in order for female heartworms to reproduce. Heartworms enter an animal’s bloodstream as tiny, invisible larvae, but can reach lengths of more than twelve inches at maturity
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.
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.
The good news is that heartworm disease can be prevented!
The good news is that heartworm is easy preventable with an inexpensive, chewable pill available with a vet’s prescription. The pills can be given to dogs under 6 months of age without a blood test, but older animals need to 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 recommendations are to keep giving them to your dogs all year round. 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 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 some cases, it could be performed on an outpatient basis. After treatment, your dog should be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of infection so it does not reoccur.
If you take your dog to the vet for regular testing, especially prior to spring, heartworm disease can be prevented before it begins! If you have a cat, take a look at our article on Heartworm Disease in cats.