Dog Health

Dogs and Heartworms – Getting Rid of the Parasite

For the majority of pets in North America, April is the month that heartworm becomes a serious concern. Dogs and heartworms can be a deadly mix, and protecting your pooch from the nasty parasite is as simple as treating him for fleas and ticks. In fact many flea and tick topical treatments are now also available with mosquito repellent, which is the carrier of the heartworm.

It takes about a year for the evidence of heartworm to appear. So while April is usually the month of prevention, it is also the month that veterinarians begin to add heartworm tests to annual check ups.

How to Detect Heartworms in Dogs

Heartworm can be detected via blood tests, and serious cases can show up on x-rays. Heartworms look like thin spaghetti, just initially shorter and with more serious effects than weight gain. They are a free floating parasite that lives in the right ventricle of the heart and the blood vessels near the right ventricle. The right ventricle is the lower right hand side of the heart which accepts the de-oxygenated blood. A parasite floating around in the heart can cause sudden death, sometimes even from one heartworm. Heart failure is the most common symptom in dogs with heartworm. Prevention is much better than the treatment options for heartworm.

If a dog has never been treated with heartworm prevention, and he is more than eight weeks old, or has missed a few treatments, he really needs to be tested prior to starting the heartworm prevention. If he forgoes testing there is the significant chance of a severe reaction, which can be fatal in some dogs, if by chance he already has heartworm. This is obviously counter productive to the desired result, which is preventing heart problems in the dog. Thus, despite the extra cost of heartworm testing, it is not just an unnecessary test to run up your vet bill.

Online medications have become quite popular, especially for flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. The only issue with these companies is that if you read the fine print, they state that they don’t guarantee that the medication will work, simply that it is the ‘“exact same’” medication you purchase from your vet. This is a disconcerting bit of fine print that is difficult to discern the genuine meaning. If it can’t be understood logically, it probably ought to be avoided.

Way back when, there was a time when you had to bring your dog into the vet’s office for flea and tick treatment prescriptions. Most vets will sell it over the counter as long as your dog is a patient of the practice. The same is now true when it comes to heartworm prevention. Provided he hasn’t missed his scheduled doses and has had the appropriate testing, heartworm prevention can now be purchased without dragging Fido down to the office to see his favorite doctor.

While some pet owners provide heartworm protection for their dogs from April to November, it is really recommended that they receive their treatments all year long to prevent heartworm. The weather is not as predictable as we would like it to be, and despite our best efforts to control the weather, December can strike out some pretty warm days before the skeeters have had a chance to die off. It is unfortunate when a dog is treated half of the year and then accidentally and unexpectedly exposed during the other half of the year. Prevention does not add much to your annual veterinarian bill, and the payoff is well worth it.

Dogs and heartworms are nothing to play with. Heartworm begins with a mosquito bite. The mosquito picked up the heartworm larvae when he bit another dog that was already infected with heartworm. From the mosquito bite, it takes two or three weeks for the larvae to grow into an infective stage within the mosquito. When he bites another dog after that initial incubation period, the mosquito now injects the infective larvae into a healthy dog. For several months the larvae grow into little worms, seeking out the heart where they will continue to grow and become full grown heart worms, feeding off your dogs, heart tissue and blood. Heartworms can grow to be about 14 inches long if left untreated, and will eventually cause death by restricting blood flow and function of the heart.

Dogs with heartworm begin to display trouble breathing, lethargy, difficulty climbing stairs, shortness of breath, blue tinted gums, and other signs of coronary disease. Unfortunately dogs and heartworms will never be an issue that can be solved without preventative measures. Treatment can cause anemia, shock, listlessness, and can even cause heart failure. Dogs that have been treated for heartworms experience pain, illness, and face a long recovery period.

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