Costa Mesa, CA veterinarian describes heartworm disease prevention to avoid heartworm in dogs
Heartworm disease can be life-threatening for pets. It is caused by parasitic worms that live in the heart and lungs of dogs, cats, and other animals. Thankfully, pet owners can rest easy knowing that heartworm disease prevention is available via an injection that protects pets for six months. Dr. Rand Spongberg of All Creatures Care Cottage in Costa Mesa, CA offers education and prevention tips for pet owners needing information on heartworms in dogs.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is serious and can be fatal for pets. It is caused by heartworms that live in the heart, lungs, and associated vessels of infected animals and cause severe damage. Heartworms can cause damage to the lungs or other organs. They can also cause heart failure.
Unfortunately, dogs are good hosts for heartworms. The heartworms that live inside dogs can mature, mate, and produce offspring. Without treatment, the number can increase with the possibility of hundreds of worms in one host. Untreated heartworm disease can cause lasting damage to the body affecting a dog’s health and quality of life even after the parasites are gone.
Transmission of heartworm disease
Mosquitoes spread heartworms. Geographic areas with a large mosquito population are known to have a greater incidence of this disease. Adult heartworms have offspring called microfilariae. When a mosquito bites an animal with an active infection, it sucks the blood containing the offspring. The microfilariae then mature inside the mosquito to become infective larvae. The infection is passed when the same mosquito bites a new animal and passes on the larvae. The process then repeats. Inside a new host, the larvae mature into adult heartworms in about 6 months. Without treatment, heartworms can exist in dogs for 5 to 7 years or in cats for up to 3 years.
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Signs of heartworm disease in dogs
In the earliest stages of the disease, dogs may show few, if any, symptoms. The longer the infection is present, the more likely symptoms will arise. Dogs who have many heartworms or those who already have health problems may show more pronounced symptoms.
Common signs of heartworm disease may include:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
As the disease progresses, heart failure is possible. Pets may develop a swollen abdomen due to excess fluid. Dogs with many heartworms can develop a blood flow blockage within the heart. This causes potentially fatal cardiovascular collapse. Symptoms include sudden labored breathing, light-colored gums, and bloody or darkly colored urine. Immediate surgical removal of the blockage is necessary.
Preventing heartworm disease
Heartworm disease is serious and potentially life-threatening. The earlier it is detected, the better the outcome. Since there are few, if any, signs in the earliest stages of the disease, it is important for your pet to have routine testing administered by your veterinarian. Using a small blood sample, your vet is able to detect the presence of heartworm proteins. If your pet tests positive, further testing may be ordered and treatment can be administered. Heartworm tests are generally administered annually for dogs but may vary depending upon your pet’s age or former use of heartworm prevention medication. Heartworms need to be about 7 months old before a dog will test positive for infection.
Testing is necessary even if your pet is on heartworm prevention to ensure the regimen is working. These medications are the most effective way to protect your pet, but it is still possible for an infection to occur. Missing a dose or giving it late can leave your dog unprotected. Heartworm preventative medication is highly effective, but testing is an important part of prevention and treatment.
The consequences of a heartworm infection can be life-threatening. Protecting your pet is as simple as a monthly medication. Many monthly medications provide protection for your pet against other parasites. Establishing a routine for administering the medication and faithfully adhering to it is important. Keep a record to take the guesswork out of your routine.
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