I want to talk about heartworm in dogs today.
I came across a question in the forums today from an owner wanting to know what vitamins they could give their dog to keep him strong through his heartworm treatment.
I was immediately struck by the fact that their dog had been allowed to contract heartworm, but they were worried about vitamins.
That’s why today, I’m going to give you the lowdown on this parasite.
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The Lowdown on Heartworm in Dogs
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm is an infestation of parasitic worms that take up residence in a dog’s heart. That’s where it gets it’s name.
As the heartworms multiply, they clog up the dog’s heart valves and eventually kill the dog.
It’s not something you want to mess with, which is why preventative medication is so important.
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How is it Transmitted?
Dogs can ONLY get heartworms from a mosquito bite. That’s it. There’s no other way.
However, given the prevalence of mosquitoes through most of the world, that one way is still pretty scary.
- In technical terms, these parasites are transmitted as microfilaria via mosquito bite after that mosquito has fed off of an infected dog.
- These microfilariae mature into larvae which in turn become adult heartworms.
- Then the cycle continues.
I’ve seen dog parents ask if heartworm is contagious. Since we’ve established that there’s only one way to get them, the answer is “no, not in the way you think.”
While Toby the Terrier across the street can’t just sneeze on your Ricky the Rottweiler and give him heartworm, Toby can still be the root cause of your Ricky contracting it.
Basically, if a mosquito feeds on an infected Toby, then comes across the street to bite your unprotected Ricky, your dog can end up with heartworms.
FYI, you can’t catch heartworm from your dog.
Aside from the fact that it doesn’t transmit in any way except through mosquitoes, these parasites don’t really affect humans except in extremely rare cases.
Now that we know how it spreads, let’s talk about symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of Heartworm?
Unfortunately, heartworm symptoms don’t become apparent until there is a significant infestation of the worms.
Still, at that point, treatment to kill the worms is still an option.
Look for symptoms such as:
- Persistent cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen (in severe cases)
Is heartworm in dogs fatal?
Yes. Untreated heartworm is deadly in dogs. As the number of heartworms increases, they begin clogging up the heart. Eventually, it becomes too much, and the heart stops working.
Is it Preventable
Absolutely. Heartworm is easily preventable, which is why it’s so frustrating when I heard that a dog has contracted this parasite.
All you need to do to protect your dog is to give him heartworm preventative monthly.
Traditionally, preventative was administered as a spot on treatment, but there are new advancements in medicine which allow you to give preventative via injection or chewable.
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What is the Treatment
Treatment for this parasitic infestation is almost as dangerous as the infestation itself. That’s why it’s so important to use heartworm preventative.
The treatment for an infected dog is a medication called Immiticide. This is an arsenic-based drug, and it can be very uncomfortable for dogs.
Administration of this drug can lead to significant, tender, and painful swelling at the injection site, as well as fatigue.
And because the dead heartworms remain in the dog’s heart until they dissolve, the activity must be severely limited to prevent death secondary to the dead heartworms clogging up the heart.
It’s a vicious thing all the way around.
You Can Prevent Heartworm
And you should. All it takes to prevent it is monthly preventative. It’s one of the best things you can do for your dog’s health.
Heartworm preventative is easy to administer, and it protects your dog from a serious, deadly parasitic infestation.
With something as easily treatable as heartworm, there’s no reason not to. And although preventative can sometimes be expensive, it’s still much cheaper than the treatment.
It’s also far less taxing on your dog both physically and mentally.
If you aren’t giving your dog heartworm preventative, I urge you to head to the vet and have your dog tested for the parasite.
If the test comes up clean, begin giving your dog preventative year round. It’s one of the best things you can do for him.