Heartworm Disease in Dogs
Heartworm is spread by mosquitos that carry the parasitic worm known as dirofilaria immitis.
Your dog can become a 'definitive host' for this parasite, meaning that while living inside your pet the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms make their home in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
Signs of Heartworm in Dogs
The unfortunate reality is that you will likely not be able to see signs of heartworm in your dog until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Once symptoms do become evident they include fatigue, swollen abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing and weight loss.
Blood tests can be performed by your vet to detect heartworm proteins known as antigens, present in your pet's bloodstream. These antigens won't reach detectable levels until 5-7 months after the initial infection.
Treating Heartworm Disease in Dogs
The reason that prevention is so important when it comes to heartworm is that the treatment for the disease can cause serious health complications and be toxic to your pup's body. Not only that, treatment can be expensive because it requires multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.
If your dog is diagnosed with heartworms, there are some treatment options that your vet can use such as melarsomine dihydrochloride which is an arsenic-containing drug that kills adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is administered by an injection into the back muscles of the dog in order to kill the parasites.
Topical FDA-approved solutions are also available to treat heartworm disease. These solutions can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied directly to the animal's skin.
Keeping your dog on a preventative vaccination schedule is the best way to prevent heartworm disease from impacting your dog's health. Even if your pooch is already on preventive heartworm medication, it is recommended that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.
The reality is that preventing heartworm in the first place is the safest, easiest and most cost-effective solution to the disease. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.