Dog heartworm symptoms are difficult to spot. This is because the dog may show no symptoms at all until it is too late to treat the disease. It is for this reason that dog heartworm is often called “the invisible killer”.
This is especially true if your dog lives a sedentary life – without much strenuous exercise. On the other hand, if your dog is very active, you may notice it has lost energy or is coughing as these are the early symptoms of heartworm disease.
In its more advanced stage, heartworms may cause the dog may have a dull coat, lose weight, have difficulty breathing, experience fainting spells and have an enlarged abdomen. Ultimately, the dog will suffer congestive heart failure.
The Cause Of Dog Heartworm Disease
Heartworms begin when your dog is bitten by infected mosquitoes. However, they do not begin as heartworms, they begin as tiny creatures called microfilariae.
These microfilariae are deposited on your dog’s skin when bitten by the mosquito. Then, sometime between 75 and 120 days after the mosquito bite, the microfilariae enter the dog’s bloodstream and are carried to take up residence in its pulmonary artery. Following this, the microfilariae grow into mature heartworms where the female is typically about 30 centimeters long and the male approximately 23 centimeters. Six to six and a half months after infection, the adult worms mate and the female gives birth to live young again called microfilariae and the circle begins anew.
If You Believe Your Dog Has Dog Heartworm Symptoms
The only way heartworms can be diagnosed is by a veterinarian who administers a blood test for the disease. If the dog has adult heartworms, the test will show micro filarial activity. Because these microfilariae usually appear within nine months after the dog has been infected, it is usually possible to detect and treat the disease before it becomes life threatening.
Dog Heartworm Treatment
The best way to treat heartworms in your dog is to make sure it gets a regular checkup that includes a blood test as this is the only way to diagnose heartworms.
If your veterinarian does find that your dog is infected, he or she will first evaluate it to make sure there are no secondary problems.
While there are a number of drugs that have been given to treat heartworms in the past, most vets today treat the dog by injecting a drug containing arsenic deep into the dog’s lower back. These injections are typically given two a day for two days. The dog will then be given rest so it can absorb the dead worms.
Your vet will then most likely give the dog another series of treatments to kill the microfilariae – followed by a second blood test to make sure they have all been killed.
Preventing Dog Heartworms
The best way to prevent dog heartworms is to get your dog regular check ups that include a blood test for the worms.
Beyond this, if you live in a warm weather area or if there is a lot of heartworm disease in your area, you may want to talk to your vet about a year-round preventative treatment for the disease.
There are a number of dog heartworm medications available to prevent heartworms in your dog – all of which are available through your vet. This includes ivermectin (brand name Heartguard), milbemycin oxime (brand names Interceptor and Sentinel) and moxidectin (brand name ProHeart). All of these are available as pills or chewable tablets.
All three of these drugs interrupt larval development dring the first two months after infection and are very effective if administered monthly.
Ivermectin is marketed as a once monthly heartworm preventative medication. It can be 98% effective even with treatment lapses as long as two months. On the other hand, milbemycin oxime is highly effective against developing filarial larvae and can also be given at one month intervals. Milbemycin is a broad spectrum parasiticide and is also effective agianst certain hookworms, roundworms and whip worms.
Heartworms pose a very serious threat to your dog. If you love your dog as we love ours, you need to make sure it gets a regular blood test to prevent it from suffering this life threatening disease.
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