April is an important month on the veterinary calendar – it is National Heartworm Awareness month! While most experienced owners know that there are a number of diseases out there that can affect their pets, many simply don’t realize quite how dangerous some viruses and infections can be.
Preventative treatments designed to protect animals from some of the most common parasites and viruses are widely available, but there are still a percentage of pets who aren’t awarded this benefit and are left vulnerable to painful, debilitating and even deadly illness.
Heartworms are just one of many parasites that can cause health problems for your pet, and left untreated, could even be fatal. Here is everything you need to know about heartworms, including the symptoms that could indicate that your canine pal needs urgent veterinary attention.
What are heartworms?
Heartworms are an extremely common parasitic infection, estimated to affect anywhere up to a million dogs in the United States of America at any one time. Spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, any canine in any state can be affected in any season. Dogs make the most natural host for the heartworm infestation, but they have also been known to affect cats and even ferrets.
What happens when an infected mosquito bites a dog?
When a mosquito that is infected with heartworm larvae bites your dog, it will deposit some larvae near the wound. The larvae begin to migrate to the blood vessels in your dog’s heart and lungs which provides the best source of nutrients for them. Here, they can mature into adult worms that are capable of reproducing over and over again. The more worms that are in your pet’s system, the worse she will be affected.
Symptoms of heartworm disease
So, how do you know if your dog has been affected by heartworms? Unfortunately, heartworms are very difficult to diagnose, primarily because symptoms take a long time to develop and when they do, they are mild and easy to ignore. However, that doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no way of telling your canine pal has heartworms. Symptoms that do eventually present themselves include:
- A dry cough
- Unwillingness to exercise
- Coughing/struggling for breath after physical activity
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
While adult heartworms tend to remain in the heart and lungs, occasionally they may migrate to the brain. If this happens, it can cause your pet to experience blindness, lameness and eventually seizures.
Can heartworm disease be treated?
A heartworm diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your dog. Treatment is possible, although your furbaby may be left with some long-term or permanent effects from their illness.
Heartworm treatment takes between 5 and 6 weeks and requires your dog to have regular injections of a medication into his lower back. This is usually quite painful and so analgesics will be provided alongside the heartworm drugs. This medication kills off the adult worms, preventing them from reproducing anymore. In conjunction with this, our vet will also give your dog a heartworm preventative, which will destroy the heartworms at all other stages of their lifecycle, including the earliest larval stage.
Preventing heartworm disease
We believe in sparing all animals from unnecessary pain and suffering, and preventative medicine is one of the best ways in which to do this. There are dozens of infectious maladies, and it is now possible to protect your pet against more than ever before.
Heartworm preventive drugs are usually administered as an orally-swallowed pill or topical solution. Our team at Barry Veterinary Hospital will be able to advise which is right for your pet. Ensure that you stick exactly to the schedule of preventive medication that our vet provides. This will help your pet achieve year-round protection.
If you would like further information about heartworms, their symptoms and what you can do to prevent them from affecting your beloved canine, our friendly team of veterinary experts would love to help. Please call our warm, welcoming Miramar Beach vet office today to schedule your appointment.