Heartworm in Dogs

by admin on October 27, 2012

Heartworm in Dogs

Heartworms are caused by parasitic roundworms living inside the heart and lungs of a dog. Female worms are released into the dogs’ bloodstream which is transferred through a mosquito bite.  Six months later, adult worms are fully developed in the dog.  Since heartworms are spread by mosquitos it tends to more prevalent in warm environments that are moist and humid. Heartworm in dogs is serious and will cause a painful death if left untreated.

Heartworm symptoms

A dog may not show any signs until months after ever being infected. This is because the heartworms start in as larvae and take time to mature and multiply. Outwards symptoms that you can observe will not appear until the heartworms have developed and multiplied enough to start causing obstructions in the heart or lungs.

The earliest symptoms you’ll be able to see are:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing

As the worms become more severe, symptoms will become increasingly worse and more noticeable:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Excessive coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Enlarged chest and ribs
  • Sudden Death

Heart and lungs that are infested with heartworms can be extremely painful causing a change in their overall demeanor.  Once a dog has been infected it is late to use heartworm prevention to rid them of heartworms. Giving them this medication will not eliminate the problem and can even cause severe negative reactions. The sooner a dog is diagnosed with heartworms the easier and more successful treatment becomes.

Heartworm Diagnosis

There are several different methods of diagnosing a dog with heartworms. The most common way is with blood testing. A Heartworm antigen test can test for the presence of an antigen produced by female heartworms.  Another blood test that can be used is the microfilarial concentration test which examines a blood sample under a microscope where the worms are visible. If either of these tests come back positive your veterinarian may request a chest x-ray or ECG to show the extent of damage before suggesting a treatment plan.

Heartworm Treatment

Treatment is much like a cancer patient would have to go through, long, painful, and expensive. A veterinarian will have to administer regular injections of a drug called melarsomin dihydrochloride, an arsenical chemotherapeutic agent, for roughly 8 weeks. During this time the dog will need to be restrained using a crate to prevent complications that arise from killing the heartworms. Heartworms tend to reside in blood vessel so when treatment is given and they are killed, they can cause blockages in those blood vessels that lead to the heart and/or lungs potentially killing the dog. After treatment is completed your veterinarian will perform an additional blood test to confirm that all heartworms have been eliminated, if not further treat may be necessary.

Heartworm Prevention

Heartgard plus is a commonly used method of heartworm prevention. They come in flavored treat like form that is given every 30 days. They can be purchased through veterinary offices or at discounted prices online with permission and a negative heartworm test given by your veterinarian. Preventing heartworm is very easy and relatively cheap compared to the treatment needed to cure this infestation. Treatment can cost anywhere from $500-$1500 depending on severity.

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