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How to Protect Your Dog from Heartworm Disease

Updated on December 18, 2012

Warmer weather often translates in more outdoor time

Not all dog owners are aware of the fact that each year, when the warmer months are right around the corner, dogs become vulnerable to a very dangerous condition derived from the bite of mosquitoes. This condition known as ''heartworm disease'' can affect just about any dog living in areas where the mosquito populations are abundant. The likeliness of getting this disease are naturally much higher from the beginning of early spring up to late fall, when mosquitoes are most likely eagerly searching for a blood meal. Coincidentally, these times are also when dogs and owners are most likely outdoors enjoying the pleasant temperatures.

How Dogs Get Heartworm Disease

It all starts when a wandering heartworm infected mosquito decides to bite a dog, delivering a nice dose of heartworm larvae (Dirofilaria immitis) into the dog's bloodstream. After some time, of wandering about the dog's body, blood pressure will cause these larvae to eventually settle into the small pulmonary arteries. The heartworms at this point will eventually grow and increase in size, occupying larger arteries, such as the pulmonary arteries and in severe cases, ultimately reaching the dog's heart regions such as the right ventricle, right atrium and the caudal vena cava.

Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

Because it takes an average of five to seven months for heartworm larvae to mature into adult worms, symptoms will not be seen immediately upon being bit by the mosquito. Past this time frame, however, once the mature heartworms have settled in the dog's heart or pulmonary arteries, a variety of symptoms will generally arise due to the extensive damage caused to heart, blood vessels and lungs. The symptoms may be subtle at first and increase over time. In some cases, symptoms may take even years to arise or may even never show up. Following are symptoms possibly suggesting heartworm disease:

• Coughing

• Exercise Intolerance

• Trouble Breathing

• Weight Loss

• Bloody Sputum

• Enlarged Abdomen

• Visible Ribs

• Fainting Episodes

• Collapse and Death

Test Your Dog For Heartworms, Erlychia and Lyme at Home!

Perfect Pet Products Heartworm, Ehrlichia, Lyme Test at Home
Perfect Pet Products Heartworm, Ehrlichia, Lyme Test at Home

Pre-paid test at home kit for Heartworm, Ehrlichia, or Lyme Disease (include an additional $12 to test for all three).Simply collect a small blood sample in the vial (recommended during a nail trim), place in the pre-paid envelope, and mail to the testing lab.Test is performed within 24 hours with the results sent to you via e-mail, fax, or mail.Quick & Easy: Clip and drip two to three drops of blood into the vial.Convenient: Mail sample to the veterinary lab.Rapid Results: Test is performed within 24 hours with the results sent to you via e-mail, fax, or mail.Accurate: Same accurate results as your veterinarian. Uses the same ELISA testing kit.Save Time & Stress: No need to make a stressful and time-consuming trip to the veterinarian. The recommended nail trim that you can do at home is routine and causes less distress and discomfort than collecting blood from a vein.Save Money: No office visit and the opportunity to purchase online prescription medication at up to 50% off.


How to Prevent Heartworm Disease

Prevention for this devastating disease is fairly easy. All that is required is to administer monthly heartworm preventative pills to the dog. Depending on the area where the dog resides these may be given only during certain months or year round. Heartworm preventatives are obtained by prescription and are given only once the vet has ran a quick blood test that has proven the dog is not already affected by heartworms. This test is very important since administering heartworm pills to a dog already infested with heartworms may cause rare, yet quite severe reactions that can even prove fatal, according Another plus of having a dog undergo aheartworm test is that it often combined with other tests for Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis.

Once-a-month heartworm pills work by eliminating all the heartworm larvae that the dog has acquired in the previous 30 days. This effectively prevents the larvae from growing into adults and causing heartworm disease. It is important to point out that heartworm preventatives are ultimately not capable of killing adult heartworms.

Treatment for Heartworm Disease

If heartworm disease is diagnosed in its earliest stages, the prognosis may be fair. However, once the adult heartworms have caused substantial damage to the dog's heart, blood vessels and lungs the prognosis may be guarded. Treatment for heartworm disease may be challenging and difficult and it mainly consists of injections of an arsenic based drug known as Immiticide. The main risks encompass the general toxicity of the drug and the risk of the dead worms obstructing the lungs and causing serious complications.

As seen, heartworm disease is a condition no dog owner would ever want their dog to experience. When treatments are so risky and even costly, the best practice is to rely on prevention. The easiness in administering once a month heartworm preventatives is therefore ultimately key in keeping this debilitating disease at bay.


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    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Oh this is so scary, I would die without my baby, but you are right we must get all the right shots and check our pets regularly, thumbs up...


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