Don't Worm Your Way Into a Dog's Heart

April 1 2015

How do you prevent the Spring blues for your dog? As with many medical issues, prevention is the best strategy so you don't have to worry about treatment later. Spring not only brings fresh flowers, but some dangers outside that could affect the health of your dog. Here we'll address heartworm.

There is a lot of misinformation about heartworm , but know this: it is much easier to prevent than to cure. Here are some answers every responsible dog owner should know.

What is Heartworm?
According to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm is a very serious and in some cases, fatal disease. It is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito and is not contagious from one dog to another or from dog to human. Essentially a heartworm is a foot long worm (you can see by the picture it looks like spaghetti) that invades the heart, lungs and blood vessels of dogs and other animals. Once a dog is bitten, it will take approximately 6 -7 months for the larvae to become adult heartworms.

Is heartworm isolated to certain regions? No. Cases of heartworm have been reported in all 50 states. Unfortunately, heartworm disease spreads to new regions of the country each year as wolves, coyotes, stray dogs, stray cats and foxes migrate.

What are the symptoms for heartworm? In its earliest stages, few dogs show symptoms. However, as time progresses, your dog may exhibit:

  • A cough
  • Lack of energy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss

How do you know if your dog has heartworm?
The American Heartworm Society suggests that you get your dog tested every 12 months at his annual exam. Because of its sixth month incubation period, puppies do not need to be tested until they are 7 months. Heartworm is detected through a bloodtest that identifies specific proteins, called antigens, which are released by adult female heartworms into the dog's bloodstream. Even if your dog is on heartworm prevention medication, he should be tested once/year to make sure the medication is working.

How do you prevent/treat heartworm?
You should give your dog preventative medication 12 months a year (not just when it is warm outside). However, before you start him on heartworm preventative medication, your vet will need to conduct a test. If your dog has heartworm, your veterinarian will talk to you about a treatment plan that is a multi-step process depending on the severity of the disease. The goal will be to kill all adult and immature worms while keeping the side effects of treatment to a minimum. Six months after the treatment is ended, your vet will conduct another heartworm test to make sure your dog is worm-free.

With a few exceptions, dogs should be kept on heartworm medication all year-long. Left untreated, heartworm disease can become serious and even result in death as worms eventually block blood flow to your dog's heart and lungs. That's why heartworm prevention and early detection are so important!

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