Knowing the risks and consequences of heartworm disease is important for a dog owner. Heartworms are a type of parasite that can infect your dog's heart, lungs, and blood vessels, causing severe health problems and even death if left untreated. In this article, we will discuss all the facts you need to know about heartworms in dogs.
What are Heartworms?
Heartworms are parasitic worms that can infect dogs, cats, and other mammals. They are transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes, which carry immature heartworms called microfilariae. Once inside your dog's body, these microfilariae mature into adult heartworms, which can grow up to 12 inches long and cause severe damage to your dog's heart and lungs.
Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs
Heartworm disease is often called the "silent killer" because symptoms may not appear until the disease is in its advanced stages. Some common symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen abdomen
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is important to take them to the vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
How do Dogs Get Heartworm?
We know little about heartworm disease, but how do dogs get it?
Heartworms are transmitted between dogs by mosquitos. Adult female heartworm lives in an infested dog and produces tiny juvenile worms called microfilariae. Some are taken up when a mosquito carries a blood meal with circulating microfilariae. After a short development period in the mosquito, these juvenile worms can be passed to a new dog when the mosquito takes another blood meal.
Diagnosis of Heartworms in Dogs
To diagnose heartworm disease in dogs, your veterinarian will perform a blood test to look for the presence of heartworm antigens. If the test comes back positive, your vet may also recommend imaging tests, such as x-rays or ultrasounds, to determine the severity of the infection.
Treatment of Heartworms in Dogs
Treating heartworm disease in dogs can be expensive and complicated, and it may not be effective in advanced cases. The most common treatment involves a series of injections that kill adult heartworms, but this can be dangerous for dogs with severe infections. Prevention is the best way to protect your dog from heartworm disease.
Prevention of Heartworms in Dogs
There are several ways to prevent heartworm disease in dogs. The most effective method is to use a monthly heartworm preventative medication available in both oral and topical forms. These medications work by killing the microfilariae before they have a chance to mature into adult heartworms.
In addition to using the preventative medication, you can also reduce your dog's risk of heartworm disease by:
- Keeping your dog indoors during peak mosquito season
- Using mosquito repellents on your dog
- Eliminating standing water around your home, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes
- Having your dog tested for heartworms annually
Heartworm disease is a severe and potentially deadly condition affecting dogs of all ages and breeds. As a responsible pet owner, it is important to prevent heartworm disease in your dog by using monthly preventative medication and reducing their exposure to mosquitoes. In addition, if you suspect your dog may have heartworm disease, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible to prevent further damage to their heart and lungs.