What are canine heartworms?
Canine heartworms, Dirofilara immitis, are dangerous parasites that can infect your dog, greatly affecting your pet’s life span. Dog heartworms are actual worms that live in your pet’s heart. As you can imagine these worms fill the chambers of the heart and cause the heart to enlarge because of impaired blood flow. The presence of adult canine heartworms, if left untreated, leads to congestive heart failure. Even though I am referring to these worms as Canine (Dog) Heartworms, they can also occur in cats, which could be another blog post.
How can my dog become infected with heartworms?
Canine heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. A mosquito bites an infected animal and then is an intermediate host, spreading the parasite when it bites other animals. Heartworm disease is more prevalent in warmer climates but has been diagnosed in all 50 states.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in infected dogs.
Unfortunately, by the time your pet exhibits symptoms, he or she may already be in the later stages of the disease. Some symptoms include; coughing, intolerance to exercise, loss of appetite, and lethargy. If your pet is not on a current heartworm prevention program and displays any of these symptoms, it is highly advised to have your animal examined by your veterinarian. If your dog is already in the advanced stages of heartworm disease, and their health is declining,your pet might not be a candidate for treatment.
Testing my pet for heartworms
Most veterinarians recommend annual testing for canine heartworms. It involves a simple blood draw, usually from the front leg, of your pet. Not a lot of blood is required for testing, so it is considered to be a minimally invasive procedure.
Treatment for canine heartworms
Most people think of deworming as a simple procedure. But in the case of canine heartworms, it is an involved treatment that takes months to complete. Not to mention the cost…depending on the weight and condition of the animal, the cost could range from $800-$2000. A comprehensive blood panel and radiographs of your pet’s chest will be performed prior to treatment. An electrocardiogram may also be recommended. Because the medication used is not without risk, and veterinarians want to make sure your animal is a good candidate for treatment, these pre-treatment procedures are needed. The treatment also involves a very potent medication requiring your pet to be closely monitored during the treatment process. The bottom line here… it is a lot easier and cheaper to prevent heartworms in dogs, rather than having to treat them.
Preventing canine heartworms
There are several choices of canine heartworm prevention medications available through your veterinarian. The most popular are chewable tablets that your pet takes once monthly. There are many different brands available and some even include flea control. In addition, the heartworm preventatives also help prevent a variety of intestinal worms, when taken as directed. By consulting with your veterinary staff, you can choose the prevention that best suits your pet’s needs.
Lauren Briggs Wills
Veterinary Technician, Skyway Animal Hospital
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
A common myth about canine heartworms is that house dogs are not at risk. Unless your dog lives in a protective bubble, he or she IS at risk for heartworm disease. Depending on the climate where you live, your veterinarian may only recommend the prevention for certain months during the year.
DO YOUR PET A FAVOR and protect them from canine heartworms, with the unconditional love they give you, they certainly deserve it!
For more information about Canine Heartworm Disease, check out this video from Veterinary News Network. Also if you haven’t signed up for your Skyway Animal Hospital Discount Coupon, be sure to do that.
To see what they look like, watch this video…