What is a heartworm?
Heartworm disease is caused by the blood-borne parasite referred to as Dirofilaria immitis — a condition that happens in dogs all over the world. More than 30 species of mosquitoes are able to transmit heartworms.
If your pooch is bit by an infected mosquito, heartworms enter your pet's bloodstream and heart, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring. The disease can lead to severe lung disease, organ damage and heart failure.
What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?
In the early stages of heartworm disease, your dog may not show any symptoms which makes the condition difficult to detect if not identified during a physical examination at your vet's office. As the disease progresses to its more advanced stages, your dog may experience symptoms such as mild but persistent cough, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, fatigue after moderate activity and weight loss.
Heart failure and a buildup of excess fluid in the dog's abdomen due to advanced cases of heartworm may prove life-threatening and even fatal.
How can my vet detect heartworm disease?
Heartworms release proteins into your dog's bloodstream that can be detected via blood tests performed by your veterinarian. That said, the earliest this can occur is five months after infection has happened.
How is heartworm disease treated?
Your vet can help define an appropriate course of treatment if your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease. The FDA-approved drug melarsomine dihydrochloride, which contains arsenic, is injected into a dog's back muscles to kill adult heartworms.
Alternative options include FDA-approved topical solutions, which can be applied to your pet's skin to help kill the parasites that have invaded your dog's bloodstream. Remember that treating heartworm can lead to serious health complications for your dog, as treatment options may be toxic.
Treatment for heartworm requires multiple visits to the vet, hospitalization, bloodwork, X-Rays and a series of injections, which can make treating the disease very expensive.
How can I prevent my dog from getting heartworm disease?
It's essential to take proactive measures for heatworm prevention to protect your dog against this potentially fatal disease. Since heartworms can only be detected five months after being exposed to infection, we recommend having your dog tested for heartworm each year (every 12 months). Heartworm preventive treatments should also be administered annually. Our vets at Miller Clark Animal Hospital always advise that prevention is much better than treatment when it comes to heartworm disease.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.