Dogs can’t get heartworm disease, right? Wrong. The truth is heartworms are microscopic parasites that live inside the hearts of cats and dogs, and it’s not uncommon for canine populations to contract the disease.
In fact, in some areas of the United States, more than half of all dogs have been infected by heartworms at some point in their lives. Heartworm disease is mostly preventable through annual testing and treatment. However, when left untreated, it can be fatal, so take care to educate yourself on this potentially deadly infection if you own a dog.
Heartworm Disease Can Occur in Any Dog
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), there are currently 200 registered breeds of dogs, and heartworm disease can affect any of them. The most common species of heartworm that causes infection in dogs is Dirofilaria immitis but other species can cause infection as well.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and only infect dogs. They do not affect cats, humans, or other animals. The larvae of heartworms are carried from mosquitoes to dogs by the bite of an infected mosquito. Once inside the dog’s body, these larvae migrate through the bloodstream and lodge in the heart and lungs.
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease is a serious condition that may go undetected for years, and the symptoms may not be apparent until your dog is sick. If left untreated, heartworm disease can cause death in dogs, so it’s important to recognize the signs of heartworm disease and get your pet treated immediately if you suspect he or she has it.
Heartworms can cause several different health problems, including
- Heart failure (a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood normally).
- Lung disease (such as pneumonia).
- Blood vessel damage (a frequent cause of stroke in dogs).
- Anemia (a condition where there are too few red blood cells in your dog’s blood).
- Neurological problems such as seizures and tremors.
Testing Heartworm Disease
Heartworm prevention is a year-round commitment. While it is important to begin heartworm prevention before your dog has been infected with adult worms, it is equally important that all dogs be tested for heartworm infection once a year.
To determine if your dog has heartworm disease, you can test him at home or at the vet. If you use the heartworm antigen test kits (also known as “skin tests”), you can perform them yourself by following the instructions that come with each kit.
Your veterinarian will diagnose heartworm disease first by physical examination. They will also take a blood sample from your dog and check their chest with x-rays to see if there are any visible signs of heartworm disease.
You should always have your dog tested at least once a year and more frequently if he lives in a high-risk area.
As per Parasites & Vectors, Dirofilaria immitis is highly prevalent in pet dogs in South Texas. Almost 40.8% of dogs aged over 6 months tested positive for heartworm disease in the region.
Treatment of heartworm is expensive but typically very effective. The dog must be hospitalized during treatment because keeping the pet calm and inactive for several weeks is critical to its recovery.
This type of treatment can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on where you live and whether your veterinarian has experience treating heartworm disease in dogs.
If your dog is experiencing heartworm disease and needs surgery, you can opt to have it done at the vet’s office or at home. Your veterinarian will be able to determine which option is best for your dog.
A large number of worms are killed at once in treatment, so surgery may be required to remove dead worms from the bloodstream or relieve pressure on the lungs caused by fluid buildup. Your veterinarian will advise you on what type of post-surgical care is needed depending on whether or not they had any complications during the procedure.
Prevention Is Key When It Comes to Heartworm
Heartworm prevention is a year-round task for your dog. Heartgard for dogs is the most popular heartworm medication, and it’s given once a month. The medication comes in two forms – chewable tablets and an injectable solution. Both are safe and effective, so it’s up to you whether you want to administer Heartgard orally or by injection.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach or doesn’t like taking pills, talk with your vet about which form of treatment might work best for him or her.
Americans love dogs. According to The Zebra, an estimated 85 million families in the US own a pet, of which nearly 48 million own a dog. And for dog parents, their pet’s health is a primary concern.
These were the main things to know about heartworm disease in dogs. If you’re worried about your dog, ask your veterinarian for a heartworm test. That way, if there are any signs of infection, treatment can start immediately.