Heartworm Disease In Dogs

Categories: Infectious DiseasesMedical ConditionsWellness & Care

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects pets across the United States. When mosquitoes feed off an infected mammal, they pick up baby heartworms called microfilaria which grow and develop into infectious larvae in the mosquito until the insect feeds again, this time on your pet. The larvae travel through blood vessels to the heart and lungs, where they make their home and mature into adult heartworms. Once adults, heartworms can live up to 5 to 7 years and reach over a foot long in size. Because of how long heartworms can live in their host, every mosquito season can lead to an increasing number of worms in your pet making treatment more difficult.

Life Cycle of Heartworm

Is my dog at risk for heartworm infection?

Heartworm is alarmingly on the rise. Every state in America affected by this disease, some more than others and risk factors are impossible to predict. There are many variables, from climate changes to wildlife carriers, cause the rates of infections to vary. The travel of infected pets to areas of low infection rates can cause a spike to occur. And because mosquitoes can travel inside your home, even indoor pets are at risk for heartworm disease. It is important to keep your pet on prevention at all times and test regularly to ensure your dog’s health.

What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?

In the early stages of heartworm disease, many dogs show few or no symptoms at all. The longer the infection continues, the more symptoms develop. The most obvious clinical signs of heartworm disease are a dry persistent cough, unusual amount of fatigue following exercise, even reluctance to exercise, decreased appetite and weight loss. When the disease has progressed ever further, heart failure and an abnormal swollen belly presents. If the disease is not caught early on, the treatment for advance cases is extreme, including surgery.

Severe Heartworm Presented With A Large Swollen Belly

How do you test for Heartworm Disease?

As it is impossible to tell what mosquito carries infectious larvae, there are a handful of tests that your veterinarian can perform, many of which can provide results immediately.

  • Serological test for Antigens to adult heartworms (better known as a SNAP test): The SNAP test requires a small sample of your dog’s blood and is the most widely used test by veterinarians. The test detects proteins produced by adult heartworms and can detect heartworms even if there are no microfilariae in the bloodstream.
  • X-rays: An X-ray of your dog suffering from heartworms will usually show an enlarged heart and swelling of the pulmonary artery, which leads to the lungs. X-rays are commonly used following a strong positive SNAP test, as it will allow your veterinarian to determine the best course of action and any possible complications related to treatment of your dog.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): An EKG traces the electric currents created by the heart. It is commonly used to locate any abnormal heart rhythms caused by enlargements of the heart chambers. This will allow your vet to decide if your dog can undergo heartworm disease treatment safely.

There are several other tests your vet can perform but the three listed above are the most commonly used.

What happens if my dog tests positive?

Heartworm disease is a progressive disease. The earlier it is detected and treatment is started, the better the chances your dog will recover and suffer less complications.

The most common and effective way of killing adult heartworms is an injectable drug give to your dog a month apart. This drug kills the adult worms in the heart and surrounding blood vessels. It takes a couple days for the worms to die and start to decompose, which is why total rest is important following treatment. As the worms decompose, they are carried to the lungs where they become lodged in the small blood vessels before eventually being reabsorbed by the body. Heartworm treatment is extremely dangerous during this period and complications can arise from the fragments of dead heartworms so it extremely important to keep your dog as quiet as possible for the month following treatment, including no exercise at all.

You may notice your dog coughing more than usual, which is normal. However, if the cough worsens or your dog begins to show loss of appetite, coughing up blood, fever, depression or shortness of breath, please call your veterinarian immediately.

Once your dog has successfully killed all the adult heartworms, your vet will begin treatment to kill any remaining microfilaria utilizing a combination of drugs. Once that treatment is finished, usually only a day or so, your dog can begin heartworm prevention.

Due to the damage sustained by the worms, there is the possibility that your dog may require life-long medications to prevent heart failure and fluid retention following treatment.

Unfortunately, in some cases, dogs can be diagnosed with severe heartworm disease and have suffered substantial damage to the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels and progression to other organs as well. In cases such as these, your veterinarian may suggest treating only the organ damage and keep your dog comfortable for the remainder of their life, which is usually only a few weeks or months.

The good news is that if treatment is successful, many owners report that their dog exhibits a renewed energy and vitality of life, appetite increase and puppy like behavior.

Heartworms in Dog Heart

How can I prevent my dog from getting heartworms?

The only way to prevent your dog from getting heartworms is to use prevention. This can include once a month chewable tablet or an injection that lasts 6 months. The average cost of prevention is $5.00 dollars a month, which is a significant difference between the hundreds to thousands it will cost to treat heartworm disease.

It is important to talk to your veterinarian about the different kinds of prevention to determine which product will be best for you and your dog. With the number of safe and affordable prevention’s available today, there is no excuse for any dog to suffer from this terrible disease any longer.

Example of Heartworm Prevention

Now through June 30th, take advantage of our Wellness Promo. Purchase 6 months of heartworm prevention, age appropriate lab work, parasite exam and you will receive 50% off Vaccines, Free bath and nail trim and a free health exam! Call us today (210) 650-3141 to schedule an appointment or simply walk in!

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