Heartworm disease is a serious, often fatal condition in dogs that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and more. Preventing heartworm disease is both easier on your pet, and on your wallet than treating the disease after your dog gets ill. Our Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology vets explain why.
Heartworm disease, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito, is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called 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
Sadly, in dogs, the signs of heartworm disease don’t typically appear until the disease has progressed to more advanced stages. Once symptoms do become evident they include fatigue, swollen abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing, and weight loss.
Blood tests can be done at your vet's office to detect heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released into the animal's bloodstream. These antigens first become detectable between 5-7 months after your dog has been infected.
Treatment for 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 dog's body. Not only that, treatment is 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, your vet can use melarsomine dihydrochloride (which is an arsenic-containing drug that kills adult heartworms) to treat your pet. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is administered by an injection into the back muscles of the dog 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 preventative medication is the best way to prevent heartworm disease from impacting your dog's health. Even if your dog is already on preventive heartworm medication, it is recommended that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease! Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.