There is a serious condition that dogs can develop called Heartworm disease. This disease can cause irreparable damage to your dog's organs. In this blog, our Fort Worth vets discuss the importance of heartworm prevention and how it can be treated.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Your dog gets heartworms when they are bitten by an infected mosquito and a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis is passed into their bloodstream. Heartworm isn't contagious, and can't be transmitted from one infected dog to another pet, it can only be spread by Mosquitos that carry the parasite.
Don't make the mistake of believing that your dog's risk of heartworm is low; there have been reports of heartworm in all 50 states and it is particularly common between New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico, even along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.
If your pup has been bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will grow into adults, mate, and produce offspring while residing in your companion's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Our vets at Harris Parkway Animal Hospital can't stress enough the importance of heartworm prevention because it is far superior to the treatment involved. We recommend contacting your vet as soon as you can to establish a prevention plan for your dog if you have not already.
Usually, heartworm prevention is administered through a monthly medication that is prescribed by your vet.
Treating Heartworm In Dogs
If preventive measures fail to prevent infection, there are treatment options available for your dog. However, it's important to note that these treatments can have serious side effects and potential health complications, although fatalities are rare.
Since heartworms cannot be detected until at least five months after infection, many dogs are diagnosed with advanced heartworm disease and require prompt and intensive treatment.
In some rare cases, the damage to the dog's internal organs may be so severe that it's more beneficial to focus on managing the damage and keeping the dog comfortable rather than taking additional risks associated with attempting to eliminate the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced condition have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.
If you observe any signs of heartworm disease in your dog, it's crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately. Symptoms may include fatigue, easy tiredness after mild exercise, persistent cough, enlarged belly, reduced appetite, weight loss, and, in severe cases, a sudden collapse known as Caval Syndrome, which can be life-threatening.
Fortunately, a new medication called Melarsomine has been developed to kill adult heartworms with fewer dangerous side effects. It is administered through multiple injections, with a 30-day rest period given after the first injection, followed by two more injections given 24 hours apart. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to address any accompanying bacterial infections carried by the heartworms. With this new medication, successful treatment is now possible for approximately 95% of dogs with heartworms.
Additionally, your dog may receive treatment to eliminate juvenile heartworms (microfilaria) either before or after the Melarsomine treatment. In some cases, your dog may need to stay overnight at the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is administered.
What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms
After your dog receives its injection for heartworm treatment, it's crucial to let them rest. The treatment effectively eliminates adult heartworms within a few days, but complications can arise as the remnants decompose.
It takes several months for these decomposed fragments to be reabsorbed into the dog's bloodstream. Most post-treatment issues stem from these decomposing heartworm fragments. To minimize the risk, it's important to prevent your dog from exercising and keep them as calm as possible during the first month after treatment.
For about seven to eight weeks following the injection, your dog may experience a noticeable cough. If the cough persists beyond this period or becomes severe, or if your dog shows signs of shortness of breath or fever, it's crucial to contact your veterinarian without delay.
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs
Heartworm treatment can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body. Many dogs experience soreness and swelling at the site of their injections. The most severe side effects are related to a large number of worms suddenly dying. You must contact your vet immediately if your dog is panting excessively, has difficulty breathing, is suddenly lethargic or collapses, begins to reject their food, begins to vomit, or develops diarrhea.