We all know that dogs are susceptible to heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis). Heartworm infection is one of the most common parasitic infections in dogs in the United States. The risk of contracting heartworms depends on the area that you live in.
A dog from an area where heartworm is endemic is much more likely to be infected than a dog from an area where heartworm is not endemic. This is because the adult heartworm that is present in a dog’s body can travel long distances in search of a host. Therefore, it is essential to get your dog tested if you live in an area where heartworm is known to exist.
What are Heartworms and how do they spread
Heartworms are the larval stage of a mosquito. The larvae enter your dog via a mosquito bite and develop into an adult heartworm after molting several times. It takes about three to six months for the larvae to become adults, which can range from two up to seven inches in length and will lodge themselves into the heart and pulmonary arteries of your dog.
In some cases, the adult heartworm will also lodge itself in a leg artery where it can be found when a veterinarian is performing a blood test for other conditions. Heartworms are not visible to the naked eye without being magnified greatly so it is important to have your dog tested by a veterinarian.
It is important to treat your dog as soon as you notice that he is coughing because the purpose of the medication is to kill adult heartworms. If the infection has been left untreated, there will be damage done to your dog’s heart and lungs which will make it much more difficult for him to recover.
What are the signs of a Heartworm infection
Although heartworms are not visible without being magnified, the symptoms of their presence can be detected. The initial symptom that most dogs present is coughing. As the infection progresses, it will become harder for your dog to breathe because the heartworm is blocking blood flow through the pulmonary artery and right side chambers of your dog’s heart.
In addition, fluid may also accumulate in the lower extremities of your dog due to the damage done. If left untreated, your dog will experience congestive heart failure and dies from a heart attack.
The good news is that there are treatments available for dogs with heartworm infections if they are detected early on before any major damage has been done.
How can you prevent your dog from getting Heartworms
There are several ways that you can prevent your dog from getting heartworms. The first method is to have your dog tested by a veterinarian once a year. This entails having your dog’s blood drawn and sent to a laboratory so the level of microfilaria in his blood can be determined.
It is also possible for him to get infected with heartworms without having any microfilaria detected in his blood. The most common way that dogs become infected is when they are exposed to mosquitoes carrying the larvae of the heartworm.
What is the treatment for a Heartworm infection
It is important that your dog receives treatment as soon as you notice that he is coughing because the adult heartworms only live for about five years. Once adult worms are present in your dog, it can take up to three months of therapy before all of them are killed.
The therapy consists of giving your dog an injection once a month and a pill once a day. In addition to treating the adult heartworms, your dog will also be given medication to help protect his heart and lungs from scarring because of their presence which can further damage them.
Once treatment has been completed, it is important that you keep up with his monthly dosage of medicine for the next year so that no new worms develop and so the treatment schedule can be maintained.
Heartworm infection should not be taken lightly and you should always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any type of heartworm medication or supplement to make sure that it is safe for him.