Heartworm Disease: Signs and Prevention

Heartworm Disease:  Signs and Prevention

No one wants to hear that their beloved pup has heartworms. Heartworm disease is a very serious and potentially fatal disease. However, if we educate ourselves we can hopefully save someone from having to go through this heartbreaking diagnosis.

So what exactly are heartworms?

Heartworms are parasites that infect your dogs’ heart and surrounding areas. The parasite comes from an infected mosquito which inturn bites your dog and injects the dog with the heartworm larvae and if your dog is untreated can develop into large 12 inch worms. Unfortunately, it only takes one bite from one of these infected mosquitoes to do the damage. After the mosquito bites your dog it can take up to seven months for the larvae to mature. Then once they mature the worms lodge themselves into the heart chambers, arteries, blood vessels and then the lungs. At that time they begin to reproduce. Infected dogs can have hundreds of these dreadful parasites living in their body for five to seven years.

Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

If you suspect your dog may already be infected with heartworm disease then you will want to get to a veterinarian to begin treatment as early as possible. Some common early signs of heartworms are a decreased appetite and slow but, steady weight loss. Next, you might have noticed unusual behavior such as personality changes, lack of exercise and fatigue associated with normal, everyday tasks. Some other symptoms might include a mild, not usually hacking, but, persistent cough. Late stage symptoms would include lethargy, collapsing, shortness of breath and an obvious swollen stomach area, due to excess fluid retention.

Cure versus Prevention

Heartworm disease is difficult and costly to cure and almost impossible to reverse if the damage has gone undetected for several years. There are medicines on the market that your veterinarian can prescribe and as a last resort surgery can be performed to remove the worms and help to ease the pain. If heartworms are caught early the treatment can be successful and there is a better chance that your dog will recover. In contrast heartworm disease is quite simple to prevent so therefore, the best treatment option is prevention. There are many options available from your veterinarian for heartworm prevention such as, daily oral medications, topicals, injections and my favorite option, the once a month pill. You will need to have your dog tested prior to administering any heartworm preventives because if heartworms are present there could be rare but, adverse side effects. The FDA regulates heartworm preventives and requires that they be used only by order of a licensed veterinarian.

Since your dog can only contract heartworms from an infected mosquito and can’t pass the disease along to other dogs it is wise to treat your dog and to treat the area where your dog spends most of his time for mosquitoes. It is impossible to tell if a mosquito is infected and infected mosquitoes have been documented all over the United States, even in those cold dry areas. Unfortunately, mosquitoes aren’t going anywhere any time soon but, we can do our part to prevent our dogs from contracting the disease and to spread the word about prevention being the best option in the fight against this dreadful parasite.

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