What You Should Know About Heartworm Disease In Dogs

Many of you are aware that dogs can get 'worms'. The worms that most people think of are intestinal parasites acquired through contact with the feces of other dogs. However, the heartworm is another type of parasite. Heartworms are transmitted from one dog to another by a mosquito bite.

Unlike intestinal parasites which live in the gastrointestinal tract, heartworms are long spaghetti-like worms that live in the heart and large blood vessels leading to the lungs. Heartworms can be present in very large numbers, causing impairment of blood flow through the right side of the heart. Ultimately, the obstruction of blood flow through the heart can lead to heart failure. Furthermore, the presence of heartworms triggers and excessive amount of inflammation in the lung tissue, which leads to coughing and breathing problems. Unfortunately, heartworms can be present for several years before the pet exhibits any signs of disease. In some cases of heartworm disease, the diagnosis comes too late and the pet cannot be treated due to the advanced state of disease. Because heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is highly prevalent in the Southeastern US, especially in Florida where the weather stays warm most of the year.

When a mosquito bites your dog, heartworm larvae are injected into his bloodstream. If your pet does not receive heartworm prevention within 30 days of infection, then the larvae mature to adult heartworms. When you give your pet his monthly heartworm medication, the developing larvae die so adult heartworms will not form. Fortunately for our canine family members, there are safe, affordable and convenient medications that can prevent heartworm infection. Your pet must be tested for heartworms prior to initiating heartworm prevention. Heartworm preventatives are available as either a chewable tablet or a topical solution. Both medications must be administered each month throughout the year in order to ensure protection.

Although often costly, treatment is available if your pet is already infected with heartworms. Because there are risks associated with treatment, early detection and treatment is important to minimize potential complications. Heartworm treatment involves the administration of an injectible medication given over a two month period to kill the adult heartworms. To minimize serious complications, your pet must undergo strict exercise restriction during the two month treatment period.

Due to the serious nature of Heartworm Disease, preventative care plays a vital role in your pet's health. Along with his yearly checkup, your pet should be tested annually for both heartworms and intestinal parasites. Let us help you protect your pet and ensure a long and happy life for your best friend!


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