Preventing heartworms in your dog |

Preventing heartworms in your dog

Nadine Lober
Pet Talk
Vail CO Colorado

Heartworm disease can affect any dog regardless of age, sex or habitat. It is spread by mosquitoes and is currently found in virtually all parts of the United States. It is more prevalent along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and Ohio and Mississippi River basins. There have been reported cases in the Denver region.

The actual disease is related to the number of worms infecting the dog. The adult worm lives in the blood of a dog’s heart and adjacent vessels. It can grow from four-to-12-inches in length, reach maturation one year after infection and live for five to seven years. The adult heartworms living in the heart produce offspring, known as microfilariae, which circulate in the animal’s blood. When a female mosquito bites an infected animal, it sucks out the blood containing the microfilariae. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infected larvae are transmitted and the cycle begins again.

Outdoor dogs are more likely to be infected than indoor dogs. Most dogs infected are 3 to 8 years old. Large dogs are more susceptible than small dogs and length of the dog’s fur does not appear to affect the probability of infection. Once a dog has been infected with the larva from an infected mosquito, it migrates through body tissues for the next 100 days. At that time, young adult heartworms enter the blood and travel to the arteries in the lungs. There, the worm causes damage to the lining of the vessels. The systems affected are the heart, lungs and kidneys.

Clinical signs vary from asymptomatic with minimal coughing to more severe symptoms including coughing, fatigue, listlessness, weight loss, rough hair coat and exercise intolerance associated with lung damage. In severe cases, dogs won’t be able to exercise at all and instead, will collapse.

A simple blood test that detects the circulating microfilaria is used to diagnose the disease. If this test is positive then you can further test for the presence of an adult heartworm in the blood.

Preventing the disease is the easiest and safest method to avoiding heartworm disease. A blood test is performed before starting an adult dog on the preventative medication, to insure no presence of larvae in the blood. There a few preventative medications on the market, such as: Tri-Heart, a monthly preventative that is highly effective; Interceptor, a highly effective monthly preventative that also controls some other less harmful worms (parasites); Revolution, also effective and controls other worms and fleas and ticks as well.

If your dog tests positive for the microfilaria or the adult worm, treatment is initiated. The treatment varies according to what the dog is infected with. Most patients are hospitalized during treatment to kill the adult worm. The medication used is strong and the effect of killing off the worms can potentially cause problems in the lungs. The circulating microfilariae are usually killed four-to-six-weeks after getting rid of the adults.

This can be a severe disease once the larvae become adults in the heart, therefore it is a lot easier to prevent the disease. There have been only a few cases locally and usually from dogs who have traveled from other places. A simple blood test can detect the nasty creatures and help keep your dog healthy.

Veterinarian Dr. Nadine Lober can be reached at 970-949-7972.

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