Heartworm: even its name sounds scary. If you're a dog owner, this condition should be one of your main focuses when it comes to preserving your dog's health. A heartworm infection could easily claim your dog's life, but luckily, heartworm is almost always preventable. Here's a closer look at this disease.
What is heartworm?
Heartworms are parasites that can infect dogs, cats, ferrets, and several other mammals -- but not humans. The adult worms can grow up to a foot long, and they take up residence in your dog's heart, lungs, arteries, veins, and muscular tissue. As you can imagine, this causes a wide array of very unpleasant symptoms, such as:
Wheezing when breathing
Fainting and losing consciousness
Refusal to eat or drink
These symptoms don't appear immediately when a dog becomes infected with heartworm. They develop and worsen over time as the worms replicate and grow larger.
How do dogs get heartworm?
Heartworm is passed to dogs through the bite of a mosquito. They cannot get it directly from other infected dogs or mammals. The mosquito transmits the heartworm larvae into your dog's bloodstream, the larvae lodge themselves in your dog's tissues, and then they mature into adults and begin reproducing.
How can you prevent heartworm?
The easiest way to protect your dog from this disease is to give them preventative heartworm pills. These can be obtained from your vet. Some forms need to be given monthly, and others need to be given every few months. There are also all-in-one products that you apply to the skin to protect against heartworm, fleas, ticks, and other pests.
You should also take reasonable measures to protect your dog against mosquito bites. Don't allow him or her to play in a mosquito-laden pond, and keep him inside when the mosquitoes are really bad.
If you do notice signs of heartworm in your dog, contact your vet ASAP. Heartworm is treatable, but you need to catch it early. Otherwise, the worms may cause permanent damage to your dog's heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The treatment involves injecting your dog with an arsenic-based drug that kills the worms. Most dogs need two or three injections over a period of several months. Your dog will need to be closely monitored during treatment since pieces of the dead worms can lodge in the blood vessels, leading to a stroke.
It's easier to prevent heartworm than to treat it, so talk to a vet at a veterinary hospital like Foothills Animal Hospital to learn more about these dangerous parasites.