According to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm disease is a potentially fatal and serious disease that affects dogs. Statistics show that one in every two dogs in endemic areas get heartworm disease if they are not preventive. This disease is caused by foot-long worms known as Dirofilaria immitis.
These are parasitic worms that are transmitted by mosquitoes. Heartworm disease is often overlooked because many pet owners do not know much about this silent killer and only end up acting when it is rather late.
A single bite from an infected mosquito is enough to transmit heartworms into a healthy dog. Microfilariae get introduced into a dog’s bloodstream after a bite. These then transform into larvae before becoming adult heartworms. While in the bloodstream, male heartworms mate with female ones producing offspring. This disease is referred to as a silent killer because it can go undetected for quite some time.
If left untreated, heartworms continue to multiply. They eventually migrate to the lungs and the heart of the infected animal. Since they are an invisible threat, they can cause severe damage to the arteries, lungs, and heart. Heartworms can affect a dog’s overall quality of life and health. That is why it is vital to take your pet for treatment once you confirm it is infected. However, prevention is always the best option before infection takes place.
In the initial stages of heartworm disease, you will notice your dog having soft, dry coughs. Coughing is a sign that the parasites have started multiplying in the lungs, blocking the surrounding veins. As the condition progresses, you will notice the dog avoiding physical activities and will seem more tired than usual. The dog will run out of breath even after walking short distances.
Another sign you will see is a lack of appetite. Minor activities like eating become difficult. Finally, when at an advanced stage, dogs with heartworm disease will experience difficulty in breathing. At this stage, the lungs are full of fluids that build up around the blood vessels. At an advanced stage, the dog can faint due to poor breathing. This is a sign that your dog is critical, meaning it has only a few days to live.
Other symptoms of heartworm disease to look out for include:
Increased blood pressure
To check for heartworms, a veterinarian has to perform blood tests. Blood tests normally give accurate results if the dog has been infected for about five months. To determine the extent of damage caused by heartworms, the veterinarian performs other tests such as echocardiography, electrocardiogram, and X-rays. These tests are carried out to help determine if the infected dog is healthy enough for treatment.
The vet begins to treat heartworm disease by administering a medication that kills the adult parasites. The vet schedules more visits where he administers more medication to get rid of the offspring and other parasites. Surgery may be required if the case is too advanced and extreme. Treatment for serious infections can be expensive to the owner, and the treatment plan may not be easy on the dog.
To know more about heartworms, visit R Veterinary Group at our office in Linn Creek, Missouri. You can also call (573) 346-5733 to book an appointment today.