With a cure that is nearly as deadly as the disease, infection with heartworm is something that all pet owners should prevent their dogs from acquiring.
What is Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease is a build up of single celled ‘baby’ parasites in a dog’s blood due to an infection of adult parasites living in the dog’s lungs and heart. Dogs ill with the disease experience sickness and wasting due to the high level of juvenile parasites, or microfilaria, in their blood, and exercise intolerance and coughing due to the build up of adult parasites clogging arteries and lung tissue. The disease is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito infected with the parasite.
Which Dogs Are At Risk
In our area, only 1% or fewer dogs test positive for heartworm disease, but risk increases substantially when dogs that have spent time in heartworm endemic areas like the southern U.S. migrate north through adoption channels and introduce the infection to our resident mosquitos.
What are Signs of Heartworm Infection?
Initially nothing. Then, as parasites continue to reproduce in the dog’s body and the population of both juvenile and adult heartworms increase, dogs show signs of coughing, exercise intolerance, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, and fatigue.
Can Heartworm Be Cured?
Yes and no. Dogs that present with symptoms of illness due to heartworm infection typically have advanced stages of the disease. ‘Curing’ the disease means killing the parasites, but with so many dead parasites in the dog’s body, the dog is at risk of septicemia or blood poisoning due to the release of bacteria and other material from the dead worms. Additionally dead worms can detach from the insides of major arteries and ‘float downstream’ to more restricted areas of the circulatory system where they can create blockages.
Preventing Heartworm Disease
Because of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ nature of Heartworm disease, veterinary professionals agree that the best solution is prevention. Heartgard, a monthly, tasty chew, is highly effective at preventing heartworm disease along with infection by common intestinal parasites.