What Is Heartworm Disease?
When an infected mosquito bites your dog, a parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria immitis enters their bloodstream and causes heartworm disease. Heartworm is not contagious and cannot be passed from one dog to another; it is only transmitted by mosquitoes carrying the parasite. Don't make the mistake of believing that your dog's risk of heartworm is low; there have been reports of heartworm in all 50 states, and it is particularly common between New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico, even along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.
If your pup has been bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will grow into adults, mate, and produce offspring while residing in your companion's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Our veterinarians at Rabun Animal Hospital cannot emphasize the importance of heartworm prevention enough because prevention is vastly superior to treatment. If you have not already, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to establish a prevention plan for your dog.
Usually, heartworm prevention is administered through a monthly medication that is prescribed by your vet.
Treating Heartworm In Dogs
In situations where preventative measures don't work in preventing infection, there are treatment options available for your dog, however, all have potential side effects that can be serious and can cause health complications, however, fatalities are rare.
Since heartworm is undetectable until at least 5 months after infection, many dogs already have advanced Heartworm Disease by the time they are diagnosed and require fast and intense treatment. In rare situations, the damage to the dog's internal organs can be so severe that by the time the condition is found it's better to treat the damage and keep the pooch comfortable rather than taking the additional risks associated with attempting to kill the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced condition have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.
If you see your dog displaying any of the signs of heartworm disease contact your vet immediately. Some of the symptoms of heartworm include fatigue, getting tired easily after only mild exercise, a persistent cough, a large belly, reduced appetite, and weight loss. There are some rare and very severe situations where dogs can get Caval Syndrome where your pup could suddenly collapse and potentially die.
Thankfully, a new medication with fewer harmful side effects has been developed to kill adult heartworms. Multiple injections of the injectable drug melarsomine are required to kill adult heartworms. After a 30-day rest period following the first injection, your dog will typically receive two additional injections 24 hours apart. Additionally, antibiotics will be prescribed to combat any infectious bacteria that the heartworms may be carrying. With this new medication, it is now possible to successfully treat 95% of dogs with heartworms.
Your dog will also receive treatment to kill juvenile heartworms (microfilaria) either before or after their Melarsomine treatment. Your dog may need to spend the night in the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is administered.
What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms
Your pet must be allowed to rest after receiving an injection. Treatment for heartworms in dogs kills adult heartworms within a few days, but additional complications may arise as their corpses decompose. Reabsorption of heartworms into the patient's bloodstream can take several months. The majority of post-treatment complications are caused by fragments of decomposing heartworms; therefore, to minimize this risk, your dog should not be allowed to exercise and should be kept as quiet as possible for one month after treatment. The cough will be noticeable for seven to eight weeks after injection. If this cough persists or worsens, or if your dog is experiencing shortness of breath or fever, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs
Heartworm treatment can cause serious health problems for your pet and is potentially toxic to a dog's system. Numerous dogs experience pain and swelling at the injection site. The most severe side effects are associated with a large number of worms suddenly dying. You must contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog is excessively panting, has trouble breathing, becomes suddenly lethargic or collapses, rejects food, vomits, or develops diarrhea.