The prospect of heartworm in dogs is a serious concern for pet owners. The parasitic worms can cause lung disease, heart failure, and irreparable organ damage. Preventative measures are the best way to protect your dog from heartworms; read on to learn both the signs of heartworm in dogs as well as the best practices for heartworm prevention.
Heartworm & How It Spreads
Heartworm is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, which can pass a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis into a dog's bloodstream. heartworm is not contagious, and cannot be passed from one host dog to another, it is only through Mosquito bites that heartworm passes. Do not make the mistake of thinking that means the risk of heartworm is low; heartworm has been reported in all 50 states while being especially common between New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.
If your pet is bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside your pet's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Signs of heartworm in Dogs
Signs of heartworm include coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, swollen abdomen, and weight loss. These signs will not present themselves until after the heartworm has progressed dangerously far however, there are unfortunately no obvious early signs of heartworms. Because dirofliaria immitis does not announce its arrival, the best tactic against heartworms is a strong prevention strategy to keep them from getting inside your canine companions at all.
Detecting Heartworms in an Infected Host
If your vet suspects a patient may be infected with heartworms, they will perform blood tests that can detect a protein released by the parasite in your dog's blood should they be suffering from the infection. These tests cannot detect heartworms for a minimum of the first 5 months following the time of infection, and thus preventing heartworm in dogs is important. There are no detectable signs of heartworm in dogs, even for your vet, until the infection has progressed to a dangerous point several months following the initial mosquito bite.
Preventing Heartworm in Dogs
The team at Valencia Veterinary Center can assist you in making a preventative care plan for your dog, including vaccinations and monthly medication to prevent heartworms and other parasites.
In an abundance of caution, given the seriousness of the condition, we recommend an annual blood test to check for heartworm, even if your dog is already on preventative medication.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed heartworm and may also protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.
Treatment for Heartworm in Dogs
The team at Valencia Veterinary Center cannot stress enough that, when it comes to heartworm, prevention is vastly superior to treatment.
Nonetheless, should signs of heartworm present themselves in your dog, there are treatment options available. Your vet can help you choose which is right for your pet.
Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms. This drug is injected into the pet's back muscles to treat heartworms.
Topical FDA-approved solutions that are applied to your pet's skin, are also available to help to kill parasites in your pet's bloodstream.
Treatment for heartworm can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body, prevention of heartworm in dogs should be practiced so that these expensive and challenging treatments can be resorted to only in cases where there was no other option.