Heartworm disease in dogs is prevalent throughout the United States. Dogs are infected when a mosquito that carries the infective heartworm larvae bites a dog. All dogs, no matter their size, sex, age, or habitat are susceptible to heartworm disease.
This disease can be deadly for your dog if treatment is not sought. These worms (yes, they really are worms), can invade a dogs' heart, lungs and major blood vessels. The effects that heartworms will have on your dog depend on your dog's size and activity level and how severe the infection is.
Heartworm disease will usually begin with barely noticeable signs, especially if your dog is not very active. If left untreated, the condition will only get worse, as the adult worms mate and produce more offspring. As the disease progresses, the most common initial symptom is a cough. The cough will continue to get worse and you may start to notice that your dog has a decreased level of activity. He may tire out easily. By this time, the disease has increased to a moderate infection.
The disease will then progress to severe stage with possible effects such as difficulty breathing, temporary loss of consciousness, loss of appetite, fluid accumulation in the belly (the characteristic look of a dog with severe heartworms), and possibly death.
Regular heartworm tests are extremely important. Your dog can be effectively treated and rid of all heartworms. In early infections, sometimes just taking the preventative medicine regularly every month, will kill the worms. In severe infections, it gets a lot more involved , expensive and risky. Depending on the severity, your dog may have to do monthly treatments for a period of time. Your dog will likely receive an arsenical compound drug, and possibly other drugs, depending on the infection. These treatments are usually very hard on your dog, and complications and possibly death can occur. If you catch a heartworm infection early, you will hopefully not have to put your dog through these treatments.
While treatment of heartworm disease is usually successful, it is much safer and easier to just prevent your dog from getting heartworms in the first place. There are tablets, chewables and topicals available. Heartworm preventative should be given at the same time every month. Previously, year-round prevention was only encouraged for dogs in areas with the highest infection rates. However, now the American Heartworm Society recommends year-round prevention for all dogs nationwide.
If you have never had your dog on heartworm preventatives, get him to the vet first for a heartworm test. If it is negative, then get him started on prevention right away and continue it every month. If the test is positive, your dog may need more tests to determine the extent of the infection.
Remember, if your dog has heartworm disease, it will NOT go away on its' own, it will only continue to get worse. Your dog must have treatment. Please get your dogs tested today and get them started on prevention immediately.