Dog Heartworms is a disease that can be treated if caught in time. Prevention is best and done by administering your dog a periodic heartworm preventative. Mosquitos carry the disease and so if you live in an area with mosquitos, you are in a heartworm endemic area.
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Heartworms in Dogs
Dog Heartworm disease is caused by a nematode called Dirofilaria Immitis. Larvae, or heartworm babies, are picked from a heartworm positive dog by a mosquito; the mosquito then injects larvae into another dog. The larvae grow and migrate gradually from the skin area to the heart making the journey over about six months. Heartworm preventatives work by killing any larvae that are approximately a month old or less.
Once in the heart the adult heartworms often migrate into the arteries going to the lungs. This inhibits blood flow to the lungs which causes the right side of the heart to enlarge as it works harder to pump blood through heartworm infested arteries. With a heart that is having to work harder than usual at every beat, these dogs show signs of exercise intolerance or a lack of energy. As the lungs themselves become inflamed, coughing is another symptom. Eventually, weight loss occurs and sometimes fluid even backs up into the abdomen causing a pot-bellied appearance.
If dog heartworm disease is caught in time, it can be treated quite successfully. Your veterinarian will want to do some blood work to check for other diseases and to check to see if your dog’s liver and kidneys are up to being treated with the heartworm medication. In addition, chest x-rays will assist in determining how severe the heartworm disease is in your dog. Once this is done, a treatment course will be planned for your pet. The heartworms themselves are killed using an immiticide that is given by injection.
After the immiticide is given, your dog will need to be kept exercise restricted for 30-60 days; the dead and dying worms are left to decompose in the heart and lung arteries. With too much activity, the decomposing pieces may go downstream and cause “emboli” in the lings (clots).
Above all, prevention is best. Make sure that your dog is on a heartworm preventative and tested every year for heartworm disease.
- Sam D. Meisler DVM
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