Video: "Heartworm Disease" (3:00)—Dr. Scribano talks about how pets get heartworms, their effects, and how we can help prevent them.
Featured Quote: "The oral once a month prevention methods are good, but they're only good if you give it every single month and most of us are human, not superhuman."
Heartworms are long, thin parasites that infect cats, dogs, and ferrets. The only way a dog can contract heartworm disease is from a mosquito bite. After a mosquito bites an infected pet, the tiny young of the heartworm are ingested—with the animal’s blood—into the mosquito. Then, when the mosquito bites another pet, infective larvae enter the pet through the bite wound.
Infective larvae then grow over the next six months into adult heartworms, taking up residence in the dog’s heart, lungs, or arteries. This is heartworm disease. It can lead to heart failure, lung disease, damage to other body organs, and eventually death—even sudden death with no apparent symptoms of the disease. How does your veterinarian test for and treat heartworm disease in dogs?
The most commonly performed heartworm test detects the presence of adult female worms by screening a dog’s blood for specific antigens. If tests are positive, preventive measures should not begin until the existing disease is treated by your dog’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, preventatives can cause complications in an already infected pet.
Your veterinarian can treat heartworm disease in your dog through medications. Treating the disease is a hardship, though, both on your precious pet and your finances. In advanced pet heartworm disease, the only treatment may be surgical removal of the worms. However, full recovery is rare because serious damage to internal organs has already occurred. For these reasons, we recommend annual testing for heartworms while your dog is on regular heartworm prevention.
Dog heartworm prevention, however, does not eliminate adult worms, nor does it address the symptoms and damage that heartworms cause. Regular tests should be performed after prevention has begun—annually, as recommended—to determine whether the dosage of prevention is adequate for your dog’s unique, ever-changing circumstances.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs depend on the severity of the disease. There may be no symptoms at all in early stages. Later, dogs may develop a cough, fatigue, loss of weight, loss of muscle, and labored breathing. Symptoms can vary in intensity depending on activity levels and other health conditions. In later stages of heartworm disease, dogs may not survive. So prevention, early detection, and treatment are vital.
Wellness exams by your veterinarian include standard tests for detecting the presence of internal parasites in your dog. So please make sure to schedule regular exams. With the treatments and preventatives prescribed by your vet, your dog can live a happy, healthy life with your family—parasite-free.
As indicated above, prevention of heartworms is paramount. Please let the veterinarians at Northeast Animal Hospital help your dog stay free of these dreadful parasites.