Protecting your dog is of the utmost importance this spring/summer. April was Heartworm Awareness month! Heartworm is a deadly disease that can make your dog very ill if they aren’t on the proper preventive treatment.
Let’s break down heartworm disease, symptoms, and treatment options for your dog.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. The worms are spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. When your dog gets bit, they become a host for the worms. Essentially, your dog provides the perfect environment for worms to mature into adults and reproduce while living inside your dog. This disease is called “heartworm” because the worms live predominantly in the heart. They also get into your dog’s lungs and other neighboring blood vessels.
It takes around six to seven months for the heartworm lifecycle to complete. Once the worms mature, they can live up to five to seven years inside your dog!
What are The Symptoms of Heartworm?
The severity of heartworm disease depends on a couple of factors. 1) The number of worms(also known as the worm burden) living inside of a dog’s body, 2) how long the dog has been infected, and 3) how your dog’s body is responding to the worms.
Sadly, symptoms of heartworm disease will not be so obvious, especially at the early stages. If your dog has an average activity level and is eating and drinking as they usually do, you wouldn’t suspect anything is wrong.
Here are the symptoms of heartworm depending on the stage of severity:
Stage 1: You may notice an occasional cough or no symptoms.
Stage 2: After some moderate activity, you may notice that your dog is more tired than usual. This is accompanied by an occasional cough as well.
Stage 3: Symptoms become more severe. You will notice your dog is visibly sick. Their cough will be much more persistent, and they will have trouble breathing and experience fatigue even after mild activity. Your vet will also be able to see changes in the heart and lungs in the chest through X-Rays.
What is The Treatment for Heartworm?
Thankfully, there is a treatment option if your dog becomes diagnosed with heartworm. Your veterinarian will give your dog a drug called Melarsomine dihydrochloride. This is a drug that contains arsenic and is FDA approved! Your dog will get this via deep injection into its back muscles. This drug should help kill heartworms whether your dog is in stage one or stage three severity. The earlier it is caught, the better.
Your dog may also receive another drug responsible for killing any leftover microfilariae living in your dog’s bloodstream. A series of injections are required to ensure all heartworms have been killed. Sadly, the treatment doesn’t involve just one injection, and the dog goes home.
There are potential side effects of receiving the treatments, such as blood clots developing in your dogs’ lungs. Treatment can be expensive and harsh on your dog’s body as well.
Overall, Prevention is The Best Treatment!
Preventing your dog from catching this disease is extremely important. The FDA has approved many different preventative products that are safe for your pet.
All products require a prescription from the vet. Most preventative treatments are given monthly either as a topical liquid you apply on their skin or as a chewable (or non-chewable) tablet.
Some preventatives are multi-taskers, defending your dog against other intestinal worms like roundworms and hookworms. A heartworm preventative can also keep parasites such as fleas, ticks, and ear mites away.
If you give your dog a heartworm preventative when they are already infected, the treatment can harm them. Get your dog tested every year BEFORE you give a heartworm preventative. If you skip treatment for a year, your pup may be infected for the following year.
A simple blood test is all your vet needs to detect heartworm. Your vet may also do an antigen test that detects specific heartworm proteins called antigens. Adult female heartworms release antigens into the bloodstream.
Your dog should get a heartworm test in the following scenarios:
- If you made a switch from one heartworm prevention to another.
- If your dog has traveled to an area where heartworm disease is more prevalent.
- If the heartworm season where you and your dog lives is longer within your region.
Visit your vet today to book an appointment for a heartworm test. Don’t let your fur baby go unprotected this spring and summer!