Heartworm disease is a critical condition that can affect dogs, leading to irreversible harm to their organs. In this blog, our veterinarians at Clarksville shed light on the significance of preventing heartworm and explore the available treatment options.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Your dog can get heartworms when a mosquito that carries a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis bites them. The worm enters their bloodstream through the mosquito bite. It's important to know that heartworm is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one infected dog to another. It can only be spread by mosquitoes that carry the parasite.
It's a common misconception that dogs have a low risk of getting heartworms. In fact, there have been reports of heartworm cases in all 50 states. The risk is particularly high in areas between New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico, including along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.
If your dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will grow into adults, mate, and produce offspring inside their heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Our veterinarians at Sango Veterinary Hospital emphasize the significance of heartworm prevention over treatment. It's crucial to get in touch with your vet and set up a prevention plan for your dog if you haven't done so already.
Typically, heartworm prevention involves giving your dog a monthly medication prescribed by your vet.
Treating Heartworm In Dogs
When preventive measures fail to prevent infection in your dog, there are treatment options available. However, these treatments can have serious side effects and potential health complications, although fatalities are rare.
Heartworm disease remains undetectable until at least five months after infection. By the time dogs are diagnosed, many already have advanced stages of the disease and require prompt and intensive treatment. In some cases, the damage to the dog's internal organs is so severe that it's more beneficial to focus on managing the damage and keeping the dog comfortable rather than taking additional risks associated with attempting to eliminate the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced stage typically have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.
If you notice any signs of heartworm disease in your dog, it is crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately. Symptoms of heartworm disease include fatigue, easily getting tired after mild exercise, persistent cough, swollen belly, reduced appetite, and weight loss. In rare and severe cases, dogs may experience Caval Syndrome, which can lead to sudden collapse and potential death.
Fortunately, a new medication called Melarsomine has been developed to kill adult heartworms with fewer dangerous side effects. It is administered through multiple injections, usually with a 30-day rest period after the first injection, followed by two more injections 24 hours apart. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to combat any infectious bacteria carried by the heartworms. With this new medication, successful treatment is possible for approximately 95% of dogs with heartworms.
Additionally, your dog will receive treatment to eliminate juvenile heartworms (microfilaria), either before or after the Melarsomine treatment. Depending on the circumstances, your dog may need to spend a night at the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is given.
What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms
After getting an injection, it's important to let your dog rest. Heartworm treatment in dogs kills adult heartworms quickly, but there can be complications as the dead worms decompose. It takes several months for the body to absorb the decomposed heartworms. Most problems after treatment occur due to these decomposing fragments.
To reduce the risk, your dog should avoid exercise and be kept calm for the first month after treatment. You may notice your dog coughing during the seven to eight weeks after the injection. If the cough continues for longer or is severe, or if your dog shows signs of breathing difficulties or fever, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs
Heartworm treatment can have harmful effects on your pet's well-being and may be toxic to their body. Dogs often experience pain and swelling where they receive the injections. The most severe side effects occur when a significant number of worms die suddenly. If your dog shows signs of excessive panting, breathing difficulties, sudden lethargy or collapsing, loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea, it is crucial to contact your veterinarian right away.