Heartworm disease in dogs is very dangerous and is often overlooked. This condition starts with a simple mosquito bite and requires a long and expensive treatment. In some cases, this disease, unfortunately, ends in death. So, if you want to protect your pooch from this parasite, here are some things you should know.
Dogs can get heartworms only by being bitten by an infected mosquito, and there’s no other way. Because there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected or not, prevention is very important. Just one bite from an infected insect will give your pet a heartworm. After a dog’s been bitten, it takes about seven months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once they grow, they get lodged in the heart, lungs and blood vessels and start reproducing. They grow up to be 12 inches in length and can live for five to seven years. There were cases of sick dogs with more than 250 worms in their organism.
At first, your dog will show no symptoms, but as worms grow and reproduce, most dogs develop a cough. As the infection progresses, dogs get exhausted very fast and won’t exercise anymore. They can also develop abnormal lung sounds, retain fluids and even pass out from the loss of blood to the brain. Even everyday activities such as eating and drinking become too difficult. Unfortunately, most dogs with a heartworm infection die if not treated.
Heartworms are best treated with a drug called Immiticide, an arsenic-based product in the form of an injection. After two or three injections, adult worms in the heart are killed. The best way to start the treatment is to take your dog for a thorough pre-treatment that includes X-rays, blood work and other tests that will establish the level of infection. After that, the treatment with the injection can start. The heartworm treatment for dogs usually ends with drugs, but sometimes, the worms are found not only in the heart but also in a large vein located between the liver and the heart. If that happens, surgical removal of the worms may be necessary.
After the treatment, heartworms will begin to die. During this period, they break up into pieces which can cause blockage of heart vessels and lead to death. To avoid these blockages, treated dogs have to be kept calm for several months after the treatment. Most of the dogs that die after receiving injections die because their owners let them run and get too excited. Drugs themselves are very safe.
Heartworm disease can be prevented very easily and for very little money. There are pills you can give your dog every month, topicals that can be put on the skin and injectable products that are given every six months. Treating the disease is much harder on the body of your pet and much more expensive than simple prevention. Preventives will cost you $100 tops while treatment can run up to $1000.
The only way a dog can get heartworms is through the bite of an infected mosquito, so your other dogs and pets are safe. Even if a healthy mosquito bites an infected dog and then bites a healthy dog right after, it won’t spread the infection.
As you can see, this condition is quite dangerous, but easily prevented. Contact your vet and discuss preventive measures to ensure your dog has a long and healthy life.
(See also Canine Heart Disease for more information ...)