With April being National Heartworm Awareness Month is it good to know the symptoms, treatment and preventatives for the disease. The American Heartworm Society recommends that all dogs be tested annually for heartworm infection. Transmitted by mosquitoes, this serious parasitic disease can be fatal. Fortunately, your veterinarian offers a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection, including an injection, daily and monthly tablets, and monthly topical medications.
Heartworm is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. When a mosquito bites a susceptible animal, the infective larvae enter the tissues and begin a migration into the blood vessels. The worms travel through the bloodstream, harming arteries and vital organs as they make their way to the lungs and the heart chamber, about six months after the initial infection. Several hundred worms can live in one dog for five to seven years.
Symptoms of heartworm can include:
- Labored breathing
- Weight loss, listlessness and fatigue after only moderate exercise
- Some dogs exhibit no symptoms at all until late stages of infection
Heartworm treatment in dogs is a multiple-step, three-to-four month process that involves injections and oral medication to kill the heartworms, as well as prolonged periods of exercise restriction.
- The most common course of treatment is a series of injections of drugs called adulticides into the dogs’ muscle. This cure has a high success rate and can require hospitalization.
- All treatment protocols require several weeks of exercise restriction after treatment and are not without risk.
After treatment, your dog should be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of infection.
- Prevention comes in several formulations and your veterinarian can advise you as to the best choice for your pet. Heartworm preventives commonly also treat a variety of other internal and external parasites.
- Puppies should start on preventives no later than eight weeks of age without a test, but should be tested in six month intervals after the first dose and then yearly after that.
Heartworm infestation can happen to any dog, but since mosquitoes are their carriers, dogs who live in hot, humid regions are at a greater risk. The disease is most commonly found on the East Coast, in southern states and in the Mississippi River Valley.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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