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Heartworm Disease in Dogs : Prevention & Treatment

Dogs can develop a serious condition known as Heartworm disease. This disease can inflict irreparable damage to your dog's organs. In this blog, our Ankeny vets delve into the significance of heartworm prevention and the treatment options available.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

When an infected mosquito bites your dog, it transmits a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis into the bloodstream, causing heartworm infection. Heartworm is not contagious and cannot be transmitted between infected dogs; it can only be spread by mosquitoes carrying the parasite. Do not underestimate your dog's risk of heartworm, as reports of heartworm cases have emerged in all 50 states, with high prevalence from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico, including areas along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.

If your pup gets bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will mature, reproduce, and reside in your companion's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Heartworm Prevention For Dogs

At Creature Comforts Veterinary Hospital, our vets emphasize the critical importance of heartworm prevention over treatment. If you haven't already, we strongly recommend contacting your vet as soon as possible to establish a prevention plan for your dog. Typically, your vet will prescribe a monthly medication for heartworm prevention.

Treating Heartworm In Dogs

Treatment options are available for your dog when preventative measures fail to prevent infection. However, all of these options come with the potential for serious side effects and health complications, although fatalities are rare.

Heartworm remains undetectable until at least five months after infection, and many dogs already have advanced Heartworm Disease by the time they receive a diagnosis. These cases demand fast and intensive treatment. In rare instances, the damage to the dog's internal organs can be so severe that it is more prudent to address the damage and ensure the dog's comfort rather than taking the additional risks associated with attempting to eliminate the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced condition typically have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.

If you observe any signs of heartworm disease in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately. Symptoms of heartworm include fatigue, easy exhaustion even after mild exercise, a persistent cough, a distended abdomen, decreased appetite, and weight loss. In some rare and severe situations, dogs may experience Caval Syndrome, where your pup could suddenly collapse and potentially face a fatal outcome.

Fortunately, a new medication is available for killing adult heartworms with fewer dangerous side effects. Melarsomine is an injectable drug designed to eliminate adult heartworms and is administered through multiple injections. Typically, your dog will undergo a 30-day rest period after the initial injection, followed by two more injections spaced 24 hours apart. Antibiotics will also be prescribed to combat any infectious bacteria the heartworms may carry. This new medication allows 95% of heartworm dogs to be successfully treated.

Additionally, your dog will receive treatment to eliminate juvenile heartworms (microfilaria) either before or after their Melarsomine treatment. Depending on the circumstances, your dog may need to spend the night in the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is administered.

What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms

Allow your dog to rest following its injection. Heartworm treatment in dogs kills the adult heartworms within a few days, but further complications can occur while their corpses decompose. The patient's bloodstream can reabsorb the heartworms over several months. Most post-treatment complications result from the fragments of decomposing heartworms. To minimize this risk, do not allow your dog to exercise, and keep them as quiet as possible for the first month following treatment. You may notice a cough for seven to eight weeks after the injection. If this cough persists beyond this period or is particularly severe, or if your dog shows signs of shortness of breath or fever, contact your veterinarian immediately.

The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs

Heartworm treatment can cause serious complications for your pet's health and is potentially toxic to the dog's body. Many dogs experience soreness and swelling at the site of their injections. The most severe side effects are related to many worms suddenly dying. You must contact your vet immediately if your dog is panting excessively, has difficulty breathing, is suddenly lethargic or collapses, begins to reject their food, vomit, or develops diarrhea.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding horses or ponies. Please visit your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your animal's condition.

Contact our vets at Creature Comforts Veterinary Hospital immediately if they are displaying any signs of heartworm or side effects of their heartworm treatment. 

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Creature Comforts Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our Ankeny vets take the time to get to know our clients and treat every pet as if it were our own. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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