Although dogs can develop heartworm disease at any time throughout the year, the prevalence of mosquitoes in the spring and summer make education about the disease especially relevant this time of year. There is a wealth of information available online and through your veterinarian – I’ll just go over the basics here.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis and is spread through mosquito bites. The worms live inside the mosquito for a short period while they become infective (able to cause the disease). The worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside a dog. The name of the worms comes from the place they live inside a dog – the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Talk to your vet about heartworm disease prevention.
What are the symptoms?
Severity of heartworm disease can vary depending on the number of worms living inside the dog, how long the dog has been infected, and how active the dog is. Recently infected dogs will show fewer symptoms, as will dogs with fewer worms or dogs that are not very active. Some dogs will not show any symptoms until later stages of infection.
Symptoms can include:
fatigue after only moderate exercise.
If you think your dog may have heartworm disease, make an appointment with your vet right away. Heartworm disease can be diagnosed by a veterinarian’s examination, x-rays or ultrasound, or a blood test. All dogs should be routinely screened with a blood test for heartworm either annually in spring or before being placed on a new prescription for a heartworm preventive.
How is heartworm disease treated?
The most common course of treatment is a series of injections into the dog’s muscle. While this treatment has a high rate of success in treating the disease, all treatments also require a period of exercise restriction. This is a disease that is much easier and better to prevent than it is to treat. After treatment, your dog should be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of becoming infected again.
How is heartworm disease prevented?
There are a couple of easy-to-administer options to prevent heartworm disease. A common method of prevention is a monthly chewable tablet – flavored so that most dogs think they’re getting a treat! There is also an injectable heartworm preventative that can be administered by a veterinarian every six months, although this carries some additional risks not associated with monthly tablets. Your veterinarian can help you decide what’s right for your dog.
While heartworm is a severe and potentially fatal disease, it is easily prevented. Keep your pups safe and happy with consistent heartworm preventative and regular veterinary care!
Jackie D. is a dog walker for Running The Pack, a certified Vet Tech, and a graduate of the Veterinary Technology degree program at North Shore Community College.