In this blog, our veterinarians from New Iberia talk about the importance of preventing and treating Heartworm disease in dogs, which can seriously harm your dog's organs.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
When a mosquito bites your dog, it can pass on tiny worms called Dirofilaria immitis. These worms cause heartworm disease but don't worry, they can't spread from one dog to another, only through infected mosquito bites.
Don't make the mistake of believing that your dog's risk of heartworm is low; there have been reports of heartworm in all 50 states, and it is particularly common between New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico, even along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.
If an infected mosquito has bitten your pup, the worms will grow into adults, mate, and produce offspring while residing in your companion's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Our vets at All Creatures Veterinary Hospital can't stress enough the importance of heartworm prevention because it is far superior to the treatment involved. We recommend contacting your vet as soon as you can to establish a prevention plan for your dog if you have not already.
Usually, heartworm prevention is administered through a monthly medication that your vet prescribes.
Treating Heartworm In Dogs
In situations where preventative measures don't work in preventing infection, your dog has treatment options. However, all have potential side effects that can be serious and can cause health complications, however, fatalities are rare.
Since heartworm is undetectable until at least 5 months after infection, many dogs already have advanced Heartworm Disease by the time they are diagnosed and require fast and intense treatment. In rare situations, the damage to the dog's internal organs can be so severe that by the time the condition is found, it's better to treat the damage and keep the puppy comfortable rather than take the additional risks associated with attempting to kill the heartworms. Dogs in this advanced condition have a life expectancy of only a few weeks or months.
If your dog shows any signs of heartworm disease, like fatigue, getting it easily, a persistent cough, a swollen belly, reduced appetite, or weight loss, contact your vet right away. In rare cases, dogs can develop Caval Syndrome, leading to sudden collapse and potential death.
Thankfully, a new medication has been developed to kill adult heartworms with fewer dangerous side effects. Melarsomine is an injectable drug that kills adult heartworms and is administered through multiple injections. Typically, your dog will be given a 30-day rest period after their first injection, after which they will receive two more injections 24 hours apart. Antibiotics will also be prescribed to combat any infectious bacteria the heartworms may be carrying. With this new medication, 95% of dogs with heartworms are now able to be successfully treated.
Additionally, your dog may receive treatment to eliminate juvenile heartworms, either before or after the Melarsomine treatment. Your dog might need to stay at the hospital for observation on the day this treatment is given.
What To Do After Your Dog Has Been Treated For Heartworms
Make sure your dog rests after getting a heartworm treatment injection. The treatment quickly gets rid of adult heartworms in a few days, but complications can happen as their bodies break down. It takes several months for the remains of the heartworms to be absorbed back into your dog's bloodstream.
Keep your dog calm and avoid exercise for the first month after treatment to reduce the risk of complications. Your dog might have a noticeable cough for seven to eight weeks after the injection. If this cough continues or gets very bad, or if your dog has trouble breathing or a fever, contact your vet immediately.
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Treatment In Dogs
Heartworm treatment can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to the dog's body. Many dogs experience soreness and swelling at the site of their injections.
The most severe side effects are related to a large number of worms suddenly dying. You must contact your vet immediately if your dog is panting excessively, has difficulty breathing, is suddenly lethargic or collapses, begins to reject their food, begins to vomit, or develops diarrhea.