Heartworm disease is caused by parasitic worms that spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and live in your dog’s lungs, blood vessels and heart. Our Murfreesboro vets share what you should know about heartworm in dogs.
What is heartworm disease?
Caused by a blood-borne parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis, canine heartworm disease is transmitted by more than 30 different species of mosquitoes to dogs all over the world.
If an infected mosquito bites your pet, the worms will grow into adults, mate and produce offspring — all while making themselves at home in your pet’s heart. The condition can cause severe lung disease, organ damage and heart failure.
What are signs of heartworm in dogs?
Many dogs display few or no symptoms at all during the early stages of heartworm disease. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may include a mild but persistent cough, weight loss, fatigue after even moderate activity, decreased appetite and difficulty breathing.
Advanced cases of heartworm disease may lead to a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the dog’s abdomen. Pets can also develop heart failure.
How is heartworm disease detected?
Your veterinarian can run blood tests to detect proteins heartworms will release in your dog’s bloodstream. The earliest these heartworm proteins can be detected is about 5 months after your pet has become infected.
This is why we recommend having your dog tested every 12 months for heartworm. Your pooch should also have annual heartworm preventive treatments. Our Murfreesboro vets stress that when it comes to heartworm disease, it’s far better to prevent the condition than to treat it.
What are the treatment options for heartworm disease?
Below are some treatment options that may be available if your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease. Your vet can help you choose which is right for your pet.
Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is injected into the pet's back muscles to treat heartworms. This drug is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in pets. Alternatively, topical solutions that are FDA-approved can be applied to your pet's skin to help to kill parasites in your pet's bloodstream.
It is important to note that treatment for heartworm can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to your dog.
Because treatment requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, X-Rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections, treatment of heartworm disease for your pet can be very expensive.
Are there heartworm prevention medications?
Heartworm prevention medications are available from your vet. Annual blood tests to check for heartworm is recommended, even if your dog is already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the disease. The prevention treatment may also protect your pet against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.