Heartworm disease is a serious condition in dogs that is often fatal. It can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and more. Our Mechanicsburg vets explain how to prevent and treat heartworm disease.
Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito.
Your dog can become a 'definitive host' for this parasite. A 'definitive host' means that while living inside your pet the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms make their home in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet.
Signs of Heartworm in Dogs
Symptoms of heartworm include fatigue, swollen abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing and weight loss. Unfortunately the signs of heartworm disease don’t typically appear until the disease has progressed to more advanced stages.
Blood tests can be done at your vet's office to detect heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released into the animal's bloodstream. These antigens only become detectible between 5-7 months after the initial infection.
Treatment for Heartworm Disease in Dogs
The treatment for heartworm is dangerous and can be expensive which is why our vets recommend prevention. Your dog could need bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.
If your dog is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet can use melarsomine dihydrochloride, an arsenic-containing drug, to kill adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is administered by an injection into the back muscles of the dog in order to kill the parasites.
Topical FDA approved solutions are also available to treat heartworm disease. These solutions can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied directly to the animal's skin.
Keeping your dog on preventative medication is the best way to prevent heartworm disease from impacting your dog's health. It is recommended that dogs be tested for heartworms annually even if they are on preventive medication.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier and much more affordable than treating the diseased. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.