Heartworm can be one of the most devastating and unfortunate experiences for a dog to go through. Although some cases are treatable, it is a deadly disease that is easily avoidable with proper preventative care. Depending on the chosen prevention, it can not only save you money- heartworm treatment can be VERY pricey- but it can also save your dog a lot of pain and heartache (literally.) Here, we will talk about what heartworm is and the best ways to prevent your pup from suffering the torment that it can cause.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm is a nasty little roundworm parasite that infects a dog’s internal organs- specifically, the heart. Once infected with the parasite, the larvae find a comfy spot within the heart, lungs and blood vessels then mature over a six month period. Adult heartworms can reach up to 12 inches long.
How do dogs get heartworm?
Just like a lot of deadly diseases, heartworm is carried and transferred by mosquitoes. Even a single bite can cause a heartworm infection. Once an infected bite takes place, tiny larvae are injected into the dog’s bloodstream. From there, they are transferred to vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Heartworms depend on mosquitoes in order to complete their life cycle. Therefore, no mosquitoes- no heartworm. (Check out our tips for protecting your pets against mosquito bites HERE!) Contrary to popular belief, heartworm is NOT contagious from dog to dog contact. A mosquito is the only vessel for heartworm transportation.
What are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, heartworm disease has little to no symptoms in the early stages. This makes it difficult to diagnose through just simple observation. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include: lethargy, weight loss, decreased weight loss, a persistent cough and a possible swollen belly from fluid build up. In more severe cases that involve multiple worms, a cardiac blockage can occur. This causes pale gums, bloody urine, labored breathing and even cardiac collapse. Once the later stages take place, heartworm can be difficult to treat and can even be deadly. Luckily, most veterinary clinics offer heartworm tests as well as preventative.
How can heartworm be treated?
Early stages of heartworm can be treated. Unfortunately, it is a very expensive and difficult experience for both the pet and owner. Diagnosis can be done with x-rays, tests and/or bloodwork. Once it is determined how severe the disease is, the veterinarian will be able to determine which treatment will be most effective and successful. Arsenic based injections may be used which will neutralize the worms and larvae. There are also surgery options for more advanced stages. Recovery usually requires a one to three month period of time involving limited activity and plenty of rest.
How can you prevent heartworm?
Along with mosquito prevention, annual checkups and monthly preventative care are a great option for protecting your pet against heartworm. Depending on your dog’s size and breed, there are a variety of options. From monthly pills to topical creams, there is sure to be a choice to suit your needs.
Be sure to ask your vet about testing and prevention options. Most vets offer annual testing and can provide facts and advisement on the best treatment or preventative care for your pet. Remember, protecting your pet from the start can save an enormous amount of pain, stress and money in the long run.