Heartworm disease is serious and potentially fatal to our pets. It is so easily prevented, yet so damaging once contracted. Heart-worms are parasitic nematodes that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. Heartworms are transmitted to our dogs through mosquito bites.
Heartworm infestations have been reported in all 50 US States. It takes nearly 7 months after an animal is bitten for the signs of heart-worm to begin to appear. Heartworms do not affect people, but they do affect: dogs, cats, ferrets, and a few other mammals.
Symptoms of heartworm infestation:
- weight loss
- difficulty breathing
Heartworms are typically diagnosed initially with a blood test. Further testing may be done including a physical examination, ultrasound and potentially radiographs as well. Most dogs are found to have heartworms during their annual physical exam in which the vet does a blood draw prior to prescribing heartworm prevention pills.
Once a pet has been diagnosed with heartworms, it will be classified into one of three categories of severity.
Class 1- pets are asymptomatic (no visible symptoms)
Class 2- pets are likely coughing and fatigued easily with exercise
Class 3- the pet may be anemic, very exercise intolerant, and may be experiencing heart failure
Heartworm prevention is easy- simply give your pet a monthly pill. Heartworm treatment is painful and expensive. Pets who have contracted heartworm will have to be hospitalized initially while they undergo their first treatment of immiticide. These products are extremely toxic and contain arsenic, leaving the dogs very sick during treatment. Their exercise must be greatly restricted, and it is a long few weeks to months of recovery. The treatment plan will vary from dog to dog as well as by the veterinarians own recommendations based on the severity of the heartworm infestation.
If you haven’t already this year, we encourage you to set up an appointment with your vet. Get your dog tested for heartworm, and then set him up on heartworm prevention to keep him safe, happy, and heartworm free!