A few words,
This article made me squirm a little bit. I don't like worms, and this particular disease is pretty gross. I will spare you the photos – you can google it if you are really curious. You have been warned though. As disgusting as heartworm disease may be, it's vital that pet parents and future pet parents learn about it.
When it comes to taking care of my dachshund, Rocket, I try to take a natural approach as much as possible. He only gets medicine when absolutely necessary. Heartworm is one of those things that I don't want to risk, therefore I feel it's essential to give him a monthly preventative. I have a friend whose dog developed the devastating disease and sadly, passed. Fortunately, it's easy to prevent and is also treatable if caught early.
We all know that veterinary care on an annual basis is an essential part of keeping your dog healthy. Heartworm prevention is also an essential part of that care. The consequences of heartworm disease can be life-threatening to your pet, which is why it is crucial to use a heartworm preventative.
How Do Dogs Get Heartworm?
Mosquitoes are the carriers of the heartworm parasite. One bite by an infected mosquito is all it takes for the larvae to enter your dog's bloodstream. Once the larvae enters the bloodstream, it can take around six to seven months for it to mature into adult worms.
Since the dog is a natural host for heartworms, the worms can grow up to a foot-long and live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of affected pets. Unfortunately, once this happens, it leads to severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. That's why prevention is so important because there's no way to tell if a mosquito is infected.
What are the signs and symptoms of Heartworm Disease?
In the early stages of this disease, there are no symptoms. The longer the infection persists, more than likely symptoms will appear. The beginning signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough. There may be signs of fatigue, becoming winded easier, and decreased appetite.
As the disease progresses, more and more worms develop crowding the heart and lungs. Eventually, this crowding will obstruct blood and oxygen flow leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse.
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Is Heartworm Disease Contagious?
Let's say that you have two dogs. One dog is infected with heartworm disease. You're concerned that your infected dog will pass it on to your uninfected dog. As mentioned earlier, the only way heartworms are transmitted is through the bite of an infected mosquito.
How is Heartworm Disease Treated?
If your dog becomes infected, it is imperative to seek treatment immediately. If caught early enough, infected dogs can be successfully treated. On the onset, your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of the infestation.
First and foremost, if your dog tests positive for heartworm disease, a secondary test will be administered. Tests may include x-rays, blood work to see if your dog has produced antigens against heartworm, and a heart ultrasound scan to determine the severity of the disease. Since the treatment is both expensive and complex your veterinarian will want confirmation of the diagnosis to be absolutely sure that treatment is necessary.
Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the infestation but once the diagnosis is made, the following steps are what you should expect:
1. Restrict Exercise – The more active your dog, the more damage the heartworms can cause in your dog's heart and lungs. The more severe the symptoms, the less active he should be. This is when a crate will be necessary in order to restrict his daily activities.
2. Medication – Your veterinarian will begin with injection treatments. In addition, antibiotics may be administered to prevent bacteria from entering your dog's bloodstream
3. Retest – Approximately six months after treatment is completed, your veterinarian will run a heartworm test to make sure there aren't any heartworm antigens in your dog's blood
4. Prevention – Once your dog has been successfully treated for heartworm disease, you should put them on a monthly heartworm preventative regimen and have your dog tested once a year.
Annual Heartworm Testing Is Simple and Inexpensive
How to Prevent Heartworm Disease
The good news is heartworm disease is completely preventable. Heartworm preventatives come in the form of tablets or chewables, topicals that are applied to the skin, and injections all through a prescription from your veterinarian.
Oral medication typically contains ivermectin or milbemycin given monthly. Moxidectin is often used as an injectable administered every 6 months only by a certified veterinarian. Selamectin or moxidectin are used in topical parasiticides applied monthly.
You may want to ask your veterinarian which is the best route to take for your dog. It's important to note that before you begin administering a heartworm preventative, your veterinarian will test your dog to make sure he does not already have heartworms. This is why annual visits to the vet are so important.
“It's important to make heartworm prevention a regular part of caring for your pet. Even though mosquitoes are more prevalent during the hot summer months, heartworm prevention is important year round.”
I give Rocket the chewable form and always keep a record of when it was administered. Most brands have little stickers for each month as a reminder. One rule of thumb that helps me to remember it's time for Rocket's pill is that I always give it to him on the first day of every month.
Don't panic if the dose is a few days late. Most monthly medicines have a 15-day safety factor. So if you missed a week or two, your pet is still within that safety range. It's safe to say that you can give your pet the missed dosage.
Want even more info? Check out American Heartworm Society to understand the disease further.