Protecting Your Pet: Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
Nearly every dog owner has heard of heartworms and knows they are incredibly dangerous. But often times they don’t know much else about the topic or how to deal with this potentially deadly condition. In this blog post, we will cover the important details about what heartworms are, how dogs get heartworms, how to prevent heartworms in the first place, and treatments should they become necessary.
How Do Dogs Get Heartworms?
Heartworm disease in dogs is a specific type of worm, normally referred to as a roundworm. Any dog regardless of breed, age, or size can get heartworms. Dogs get heartworms through mosquito bites when the insect is infected with tiny heartworms. The baby heartworms called microfilaria, actually grow into larvae while still in the mosquito. When the insect bites a dog, the larvae are injected into the blood stream and eventually travel to the pulmonary arteries of the heart. The worms will then grow and mature, which can cause serious damage to both the heart and lungs.
The larvae, once in the dog, have a maturation cycle of about 6 months. Once grown, adult heartworms can live for about 5-6 years. Heartworms in dogs create a vicious cycle; once a dog is infected with them, new mosquitos that bite the animal can become infected and then are capable of spreading the disease to other dogs.
How to Prevent Heartworms
If there is any great news about heartworms, it’s that the condition is easily preventable. There are a variety of medications on the market that will prevent heartworms. Many dogs are given preventive medication in the form of a monthly, chewable tablet or a topical application. There is also an injection that will prevent heartworms for up to 6 months and can be given twice per year. Professionals do recommend year-long treatment, and it is important to note that the vet will want to test your dog for heartworms before the preventive program is started and annually afterward, to ensure that the medication is working.
How to Treat Heartworms
Heartworms in dogs can be treated, but it’s much easier to prevent the condition than to cure it afterward. In order to kill mature, adult heartworms in a dog, the American Heartworm Association recommends 120 days of heartworm treatment which involves several deep, intermuscular shots. The dog will need to stay in the hospital during the administration of the injections and can be risky. In addition, the vet will most likely include x-rays, anti-biotics, blood work and other tests to determine how serious the infection is. Treating heartworms is expensive, so prevention is the best policy!
Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs
Just in case, it’s important as a pet owner to be on the lookout for heartworms in your dog. Here are some of the more obvious heartworm symptoms in dogs:
• Difficulty with breathing during/after exercise
• Abnormal sounds in the lungs
• Fluid buildup in the abdominal area
If you think your dog may have heartworms, you should visit your vet right away. In an effort to know if a dog has been infected with heartworms, it’s helpful for the vet to know something about the dog’s background with regard to lifestyle and where the animal has resided. Your vet can perform a physical exam and do some diagnostic testing. These tests can include:
We love our dogs and want to do all we can to keep them healthy for a long, happy life. An infection of heartworms can be a serious problem and knowing how to prevent heartworms is very important. Some heartworm symptoms in dogs are easy to spot as described above. When it comes to heartworms in dogs, the wise advice of Benjamin Franklin will go a long way. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".