April is heartworm awareness month and as such we take a deeper look at the disease, its causes, symptoms and treatment.
According to the American Heartworm Society, one million dogs in the country have a heartworm infection. The Society also reports that the disease affects dogs in 48 contiguous states and Hawaii.
So what is this disease all about and how is it spread?
How it’s spread
Heartworm disease is spread from pet to pet by mosquitoes. A mosquito bites an infected dog and carries the worm’s eggs to an uninfected dog as larva. The larva enter the uninfected dog’s body through the mosquito bites’ wound and stays in the body for six months as larva before they mature into mature worms.
The worms can live in the host’s body for up to seven years, meaning that every fresh bite introduces more worms into an infected dog’s body.
The worms live in the heart and pulmonary arteries of infected animals and cause problems in other organs in the body.
Since the worms can live in the body for six months without causing symptoms, it is hard to tell whether the dog is infected or not just by looking at her. Taking the dog for tests is the best solution. Testing involves taking a blood sample from the dog and taking the sample to the laboratory.
Puppies should be tested at seven months. This is because before this point the worms are still in the larva stage and might not be detected. The puppy should be tested again six months later and every year afterwards.
Dogs that have never been tested before should be tested and treated appropriately, then tested again after six months to ensure the worms are completely eliminated.
Healthy dogs that are on preventive medication should be tested annually.
Early symptoms of heartworm disease include a persistent cough, fatigue after minimal activity, aversion to exercise, and weight loss.
As the disease progresses, it can cause heart failure and an extended belly due to excess fluid.
When the worms are in many numbers they can lead to blockage of blood within the heart leading to cardiovascular collapse.
Heartworm disease can be prevented by giving your dog year round preventive medication. This needs to be administered by a registered vet. No herbal treatment or non-conventional medication has been proven through research to adequately and safely treat the disease.
If the dog is infected, treating the disease as soon as it’s detected can save the dog’s life as well as prevent her from going through so much pain.
Heartworm Awareness: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment