Heartworm Disease in Dogs! Know the Signs and Symptoms!
Heartworms and dogs…a dangerous combination! Did you know that heartworm disease is a threat to unprotected dogs in every state except Alaska? If you live in Alaska, you can stop reading (unless of course you want to learn more about heartworms). If you don't live in Alaska, I suggest you keep reading as your dog could be at risk! Knowledge is power my dog loving friends, the more you know about heartworms and how to protect your pet, the better!
Heartworm disease is a complicated illness; therefore, prevention is the BEST approach! However, before I discuss prevention, allow me to explain exactly what heartworm disease is and how your dog becomes infected. Canine heartworm disease develops when a dog is bitten by a mosquito that just so happens to be carrying heartworm larvae (also known as juvenile worms). Obviously, heartworm larvae are microscopic; otherwise, a mosquito wouldn't be able to transport them. When a mosquito lands on your dog and begins feasting he is also depositing heartworm larvae (what a multi-tasker!). Once the larvae are deposited, they quickly penetrate your dog's skin and begin their migration into the bloodstream. Believe it or not, heartworms can grow up to twelve inches in length and make their home in the right side of the heart and pulmonary (lung) arteries. Heartworms can cause lung disease as well as heart failure.
Heartworm – Signs and Symptoms
Heartworm disease in dogs is not always easy to recognize. This is because some dogs do not show symptoms for years! However, once heartworms begin to do their damage, the signs and symptoms will become apparent. Signs of heartworm disease include a mild but persistent cough, fatigue after moderate activity, loss of appetite, and eventually, weight loss. A dog that has a large number of heartworms may have dark, coffee colored urine, extremely pale gums and will refuse to move. Most dogs that have a large number of mature heartworms do not survive.
Detecting Heartworms in Dogs
There are several different blood tests available to detect heartworms. However, most tests cannot consistently detect heartworm infection until the worms are at least seven months old. Many veterinarians will recommend X-rays and ultrasound imaging to help in the diagnosis. It is also important to note that several blood tests may be necessary.
Before a dog can be put on a heartworm prevention program they must be tested for heartworms first. Most veterinarians only test dogs that are six months or older. If a dog tests positive, they must begin a treatment program as soon as possible. Without treatment, heartworm disease will worsen and WILL lead to more serious illness (and the possibility of death). The most common medication that is used to treat heartworm positive dogs is called Melarsamine Hydrochloride. This medication is extremely effective when it comes to eliminating ADULT worms (some dogs may need more than one treatment). Additional testing is recommended six months after treatment to make sure that all the worms are gone.
Thankfully, there are heartworm preventatives that you can give your dog. These preventatives are highly effective when given properly and on schedule. All APPROVED heartworm preventatives are not only highly effective, they are also safe, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Trust me when I say that PREVENTION is always safer and more AFFORDABLE than treating dogs with adult heartworm infections. It is important to note that dogs should be treated YEAR ROUND! Remember, before starting any heartworm prevention medications, your dog should be tested first as giving a heartworm positive dog a preventative could be deadly! If you would like more information about dogs and heartworms, please visit the American Heartworm Society.
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