Today, we'll be shedding light on a concerning health issue that dogs may face – Heartworm disease. This condition has the potential to cause permanent harm to your furry friend's organs. Our veterinarians at Los Angeles County is here to emphasize the significance of preventing heartworm and explore available treatment options.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Your dog can get heartworms when a mosquito carrying a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis bites them. It's important to note that heartworm is not contagious between dogs; it can only be spread through infected mosquitoes. Don't underestimate the risk of heartworm for your dog, as cases have been reported in all 50 states.
The risk is particularly high in the areas from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico, including the Mississippi River and its tributaries. When an infected mosquito bites your dog, the worms will grow, mate, and produce offspring while living in their heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Our veterinarians at Animal Hospital of Redondo Beach strongly emphasize the significance of heartworm prevention over treatment. If you haven't done so already, we urge you to reach out to your vet promptly and discuss a prevention plan for your dog.
Typically, heartworm prevention involves a monthly medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Treating Heartworm In Dogs
In situations where preventive measures fail to stop infection, there are treatment options available for your dog. However, these treatments can have serious side effects and health complications, although fatalities are rare.
Heartworm is not detectable until at least 5 months after infection. By the time dogs are diagnosed, they often have advanced Heartworm Disease and require fast and intense treatment. In rare cases, the damage to the dog's internal organs can be so severe that it's better to focus on treating the damage and keeping the dog comfortable instead of attempting to kill the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced condition typically have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.
If you notice any signs of heartworm disease in your dog, it's important to contact your vet immediately. Some symptoms include fatigue, easily getting tired after mild exercise, a persistent cough, a distended belly, reduced appetite, and weight loss. In rare and severe situations, dogs can develop Caval Syndrome, which can lead to sudden collapse and potential death.
Fortunately, a new medication called Melarsomine has been developed to kill adult heartworms with fewer dangerous side effects. It is given through multiple injections, with a 30-day rest period after the first injection, followed by two more injections 24 hours apart. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to combat any infectious bacteria the heartworm carries. This new medication has a success rate of 95% in treating dogs with heartworms.
Additionally, your dog will receive treatment to kill juvenile heartworms (microfilaria), either before or after the Melarsomine treatment. Your dog may need to stay overnight in the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is given.
What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms
Your dog needs rest after its injection. This is important because the treatment for heartworms in dogs kills the adult heartworms quickly, but there can be complications as the dead heartworms decompose. It takes several months for the dead heartworms to be absorbed back into the dog's bloodstream. The main risk for complications comes from these decomposing heartworm fragments.
To reduce this risk, preventing your dog from exercising and keeping them calm during the first month after treatment is crucial. Your dog may experience a cough for seven to eight weeks after the injection. If the cough persists beyond this time or becomes severe, and if your dog shows signs of shortness of breath or fever, it's important to contact your veterinarian immediately.
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs
Heartworm treatment can have harmful effects on your pet's health and may be toxic to their body. Dogs often feel sore and notice swelling where they receive the injections. The most serious consequences arise when a significant number of worms die suddenly. If your dog shows signs of excessive panting, struggling to breathe, sudden tiredness or collapse, loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea, it's crucial to contact your vet right away.