What Causes Heartworm Problems in Dogs?

You may not have known it, but April is Heartworm Awareness Month. So, now is the time for dog owners to become familiar with this potentially deadly disease, and to take the active steps necessary for preventing it from affecting their pets.

dog heartworms

Heartworm is a serious disease that can prove fatal to a dog if she isn’t treated early on. This disease is caused by a blood-borne parasite (Dirofilaria immitis) that is transmitted to a dog via the bite of an infected mosquito. This is the only way a dog can contract this disease; an infected dog cannot pass the disease on to other dogs or cats.

Heartworm gets its name because the adult worms largely reside in the dog’s heart and in the immediately adjacent blood vessels. Worms are rarely found in other parts of the animal’s circulatory system.

Once a dog has contracted heartworm, it can be difficult and costly for the disease to be treated, and the worms can cause lasting damage to the heart, arteries, and lungs. Even after being eradicated, the condition will affect the dog’s quality of life throughout her remaining years.

Luckily, heartworm is a disease that can be prevented. In this guide, you will learn more about the disease and how to keep your dog safe from heartworm.

Symptoms of Heartworm in Dogs?

One of the most troubling aspects of heartworm is that it produces very few, if any, signs and symptoms when it is in its early stages. Signs typically start displaying themselves after the disease has progressed, and they can include:

  • Mild but persistent cough
  • Fatigue after activity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

The longer the disease goes untreated, other signs will become evident, including the appearance of a swollen belly, brown-colored urine, pale gums, labored breathing, and collapse.

At this point, the dog has developed caval syndrome, a condition that requires immediate surgical removal of the heartworms for the dog to have a chance of living.

Common Misconceptions About Heartworm in Dogs

  • Heartworm is only a risk in certain parts of the U.S. – The truth is, every state in the United States has had cases involving heartworm, so it is not restricted to certain areas. No matter where you live, your dog can contract heartworm.
  • Heartworm preventives are too expensive – Depending on your dog’s weight, it can cost you anywhere from $35 to $80 to provide your pet with heartworm prevention pills for an entire year. Compared with the cost of treating a dog with heartworm and her ongoing health needs after recovering, that cost pales considerably in comparison.
  • Once a dog is treated for heartworm, she won’t get it again – This is false. A dog that has had heartworm and been treated for it has the same chance of contracting it again as a dog that has never had it. Only prevention can help lower a dog’s risk of getting heartworm.
  • Heartworm can be treated with heartworm prevention medicine – While it is believed that heartworm preventives that contain ivermectin can get rid of existing heartworms, it takes generally two years of monthly treatments to do so. Over this time, the heartworms will be causing irreversible damage to your pet’s heart and blood vessels, so preventives are never recommended as an alternative to heartworm treatments.
  • Heartworm isn’t a common illness in dogs – According to the American Heartworm Society, there are more than one-million dogs living with heartworms in the U.S. at any one time.

How Is Heartworm Diagnosed in Canines?

If you believe your dog has heartworm, then you need to take her to the veterinarian as soon as you can. This is a progressive disease that can be fatal if it is not treated. The veterinarian will perform blood serological tests, the results of which will confirm or deny any evidence of heartworm. Other diagnostic imaging tests may also be required to make a positive diagnosis, including x-rays, ultrasounds, and an echocardiogram.

If your dog does have heartworm, then additional diagnostic tests will be performed to ensure she is healthy enough to receive heartworm treatments.

Treatment Options for Heartworm in Dogs

At one time, veterinarians used arsenic to treat dogs with heartworm, but today there are much better and safer options. The most common treatment is Immiticide, which is an arsenic-based product. The medication comes in an injectable formulation and the dog receives two to three injections, which will usually kill the adult heartworms in her body.

In very serious cases, the dog may also require medications for pain, diuretics, and antibiotics. Depending on how much damage has been done by the heartworms, a dog may also need to be put on heart medications for the remainder of her life.

After receiving treatment, it is vital to keep your dog from barking or being active for several months. The reason is because once the heartworms die, they break up into pieces that can cause blockages in the pulmonary vessels. When this occurs, death is usually the result.

Barking and/or exercise increases the risk of these pieces blocking the pulmonary vessels, so these kinds of activities need to be avoided at all cost.

How to Protect Your Dog From Heartworm

The most effective way to protect your dog from this terrible disease is to administer heartworm preventive. This product is safe, easy to administer, and affordable, so no dog should be without it.

If If your dog is diagnosed with heartworm, then you can get her prescribed medications for less at Diamondback Drugs. We can custom formulate your dog’s medications into tasty treats to help eliminate the stress and worry that administering drugs to a pet can cause.

You can even receive a free quote for the medications so you know the cost before you have your scripts filled. Diamondback Drugs can help you get your dog the treatment she needs to live a better life after heartworm – try us today!

Author: Giano Panzarella