Heartworm disease is a serious and possibly fatal disease. It is caused by foot-long worms that can live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm disease can cause severe damage to the heart, arteries, and lungs. It is important to get it treated as soon as possible to prevent this.
Many mammalian species can get heartworms. It is most common in dogs, wolves, and coyotes. However, cats, ferrets, and humans can also be affected.
Dogs are natural carriers of heartworm. which means they can better handle them. However, this also means that the worms can reproduce and outgrow their host.
Cats are not natural carriers and this means that heartworms will not procreate inside of them. Heartworms in cats cannot be treated so prevention is the most important. Heartworms in cats can cause lung problems.
Read our Dallas, TX, animal hospital‘s blog post to find out the signs your dog may have heartworms.
An adult female heartworm living in a dog, coyote, wolf, or fox can produce offspring that will live in the blood vessels. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, those infant heartworms can be passed on to them and then onto other animals.
It takes about 10-14 days for the larvae to infect the mosquito. Once the infected mosquito bites an animal it will take about 6 months for the larvae to mature into adults in a dog, or other mammal. It can take up to six months after infection for heartworms to show up on a test.
Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs
The symptoms of heartworms in dogs are:
- Mild persistent cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after mild exercise
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
The American Heartworm Society recommends having your veterinarian test your pet for heartworms at least once a year. They also recommend giving your dog heartworm prevention medication every month.
If you suspect your dog has been infected with heartworms, call your vet and set up a time for an appointment to test for heartworms. The earlier you can get heartworms diagnosed, the easier it is to treat them. Your vet will take a small blood sample to run the test.
Here are some guidelines for testing:
- Have your vet run a test at least once a year.
- Puppies (dogs under 7 months old) do not need a test; however, they can receive heartworm medication.
- Dogs over 7 months old need to be tested before being given heartworm medication for the first time. They should then be tested at least once a year.
- If you ever have a moment with a serious lapse in heartworm medication (more than a few days or weeks), test your dog before you start medication again.
If your dog tests positive for heartworms on the first, yearly test, then the next step is to confirm the results. Your vet will run another test to make sure.
The treatment for heartworms is long and unfortunately expensive.
The first step is to restrict your dog’s exercise. This is important because physical exertion spreads the heartworms and can increase the risk of damage to the circulatory and respiratory system.
The next step is to stabilize your dog’s disease. This process can take many months depending on the severity of your dog’s heartworm disease progression. Once your dog’s health is stable, you and your vet can move on to getting rid of the heartworms.
The treatment often consists of three shots and may include antibiotics. The first shot is given and then you wait about 30 days before the next two shots. Shots two and three are then given with only 24 hours between them.
Your dog will also need a separate medication to treat the larvae. Your vet may also prescribe medications to treat the symptoms of heartworm. These include pain medications, diuretics, drugs for the heart, and special diets.
About six months after treatment, your vet will test your dog. If your dog tests negative for heartworm, then it is time to start preventive medicine.
Make sure to give your dog heartworm medication every month. It is also helpful to do everything possible to keep your dog away from mosquitos.
Make Sure Your Dog is on Heartworm Preventatives in Dallas, TX
There are five main signs of heartworms. However, testing is necessary to diagnose heartworm disease. If you suspect heartworms, call your vet immediately. The sooner your dog gets treatment, the better.