Heartworm is a serious disease that takes the lives of many animals, including dogs. This disease is a result of several long worms that live in the dog’s heart, lungs, and the blood vessels around them. This can result in severe organ failure and problems such as heart problems and lung problems. In rare instances, heartworm can affect humans. However, there are very few chances that this will happen.
What is heartworm?
The heartworm itself is an organism that can grow up to a foot long in height. These live for about 5 years in your dog’s body, causing serious problems to his or her vital organs, such as the heart and lungs. In severe cases, a dog can have up to 250 heartworms in its body. If left untreated, these worms can cause heart failure and death.
The signs and symptoms
You can look at preventative measures below, but before, you need to know what signs and symptoms in your dogs can indicate an infection with heartworms. In the beginning of the disease, the biggest problem is that there may be no symptoms at all. However, if your dog is already unwell or incredibly active, you may end up noticing some difference in behavior. As the disease progresses, you will notice some of the following signs:
- Fatigue and sudden reluctance when it comes to exercise and play.
- Prolonged coughing or a persistent cough.
- Decreased interest in food, loss of appetite, and abrupt weight loss.
- Swollen bellies or heart problems.
- Caval syndrome – aka sudden collapsing of the heart. This can result in laborious breathing, pale gums, and dark urine.
If you notice any of these signs in your dog, do not hesitate at all. Take him or her to your nearest vet for a checkup immediately.
Causes of heartworm
So what causes this deadly disease to attack man’s best friend? Some animals, such as dogs, act as hosts for this worm. If a dog or any other animal has been infected, the worms grow and produce larvae in its body. When a mosquito comes and bites this infected animal, it also picks up the young worms along with the blood.
These are then taken with the mosquito when it goes up to another animal. If this is a dog, the worms can grow and give birth to more worms. This cycle can continue and infect other dogs and at-risk animals. Dogs that live in tropical regions or ones that are kept outdoors are at a higher risk of developing this disease.
When you take your dog to the vet, you should expect him or her to fully examine the dog and possibly recommend some tests to confirm if the disease is actually heartworm. This includes a test that will be used to determine whether the heartworm is actually present in the body or not, using a blood sample from your dog. The vet may recommend further tests to confirm heartworms, as treatment is expensive and your vet needs to be sure.
If your dog is positive for heartworm, the vet will work on a number of things. First and foremost, he or she will try to take care of the problems that come with the heartworms. Once your dog is stable, the vet will focus attention on the worms, trying to kill as many as he or she can without causing any further stress to the dog. The good news is that if your dog is diagnosed early, chances are it will easily recover from this.
Because of the damage to organs and other problems, animals that have been affected by heartworm may require some degree of care in the longer run. If your dog’s been affected, you should try and restrict his or her exercise time to reduce the pressure on the organs. In the long term, also make sure that you keep up with tests so you and your vet can be completely sure that your beloved pet is in the all clear.
How can I prevent heartworm?
After hearing about all these problems that can come with heartworm disease, your first thought is probably, “what can I do to make sure my dog never suffers like this?”. Preventative care is actually the best way to look at things. There are a number of things that you can do to make sure your dog is at least at low risk of developing this problem.
First of all, consult your veterinarian and ask him or her to evaluate what level of risk your dog is at currently. This will probably bring into consideration their age, their breed, the location where you live, and the dog’s lifestyle. You can also try keeping your dog indoors, to restrict access to infected animals or mosquitos that are carrying the heartworm larvae.
In addition to this, you can also use testing as a preventative measure. Dogs should be tested at least once a year to make sure they don’t have an infection. Plus, you should also give preventative medicines to your dog. These do not allow the heartworm to grow inside your dog’s body, as long as they are properly taken and ingested by the dog.
However, be careful as even a delay in the administration of the drug can leave your dog vulnerable, let alone missing the medication for a month or so. If you were giving your dog medication for heartworm and you lost track halfway through, immediately get your dog tested for heartworm, and have your vet do a complete checkup. Your vet will then probably prescribe the medicines again.
Myths about heartworm disease
Because heartworm is relatively well known, many myths about it have also spread amongst pet parents and the general public alike. Here are some well-known myths about heartworm.
- Heartworm can only spread outdoors: heartworm is spread quite well on the outside, but it can actually spread inside the home as well. This is why preventative medicine and testing is always important, even for indoor dogs.
- Medicines will prevent heartworm 100%: although medicines are very helpful, they will not give you a hundred percent of preventative care when it comes to heartworms. A missed medicine dose can put your dog at risk.
- Heartworm is contagious: if you have a number of dogs, don’t lose hope just yet. You don’t have to worry about extra vet visits or anything because heartworm doesn’t spread as easily as viral infections. Heartworm doesn’t also usually transmit from dogs to humans, so you are probably in the all-clear as well.
- Heartworm is a seasonal disease: because mosquitos are usually highest in number in the summers, people tend to think heartworm can only spread in that particular season. However, heartworm can affect dogs throughout the year.
- Heartworm isn’t serious: although given the right conditions, you can treat heartworm and your dog will be completely fine, the disease shouldn’t be taken lightly, and can even be fatal.
- The cost isn’t worth it: in the short term, it may seem like the cost of the heartworm medicine is far too much and not important, but it’ll be saving you lots in the long run. By using preventative care, you’ll avoid all those expensive visits to the vet, after all.