Heartworm disease: It’s something many dog owners have heard about but are not always sure exactly what it is. Heartworm disease is caused by foot-long parasitic worms that are spread through the bite of a mosquito. When fully grown these large adult worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of dogs causing potentially fatal blockages.
Mosquitos deposit the larvae into dogs when they take a blood meal. It takes 6 months for the larvae to mature into an adult. The adult worms produce “baby worms” called microfilaria which are picked up by mosquitos and the life cycle continues. Heartworms can live from 5 to 7 years in your pet!
Since there are virtually no early signs or symptoms of heartworm disease, testing yearly is vital. Symptoms are not present until the heartworms increase in size and numbers and create blockages in the heart or lungs. Some symptoms include coughing, reluctance to exercise, fatigue, decreased appetite and weight loss. Unfortunately, sudden death may be the only symptom.
Year-round prevention and annual screening is very important in protecting your pet from infection. Initial testing is vital before starting heartworm prevention.This is due to the fact that the medication can cause a mass die off of the microfilaria which in return can cause shock and potentially death for your pet. For this reason, heartworm preventative must be prescribed by a veterinarian after testing.
Heartworm disease is becoming more prevalent in Illinois. In some clinics in the Chicago area, there has been reported an average of 51 to 99 cases per clinic in 2016.
If your pet tests positive for heartworm disease, your veterinarian will order a follow up test to confirm the diagnosis. It is important to keep a heartworm-positive dog on very low activity to help decrease damage to the heart and lungs. There is treatment for heartworm disease but it is complicated and takes several months. The treatment is an arsenic type of medication and is costly. Monthly prevention is much more cost effective and an easier way to keep your pets heart healthy.
Overall, it is best to screen yearly for heartworm disease and to give heartworm preventative products such as Heartgard and Sentinel. Our knowledgeable staff is here to provide you with further information or answer any questions that you have on heartworm disease or prevention. We are here to keep hearts healthy for “Healthy Pets, Longer Lives”.