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Once an ailment mostly targeting dogs in hot, humid areas or those that spent a lot of time in the woods, heartworm disease is quickly becoming a dangerous threat to pups from around the globe – or anywhere that mosquitoes are present. In this article by Shanna Freeman from Animal Planet, you’ll learn how heartworms, one of the deadliest of the parasites that are harmful to dogs, can affect your dog’s health.
Your Dog’s Health: Heartworms Explained
When a dog is bitten by a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae, the larvae enters his skin and begins its lifecycle, eventually riding through the dog’s bloodstream to the right side of the heart as well as the lungs and surrounding blood vessels. It takes about seven months for the worm to mature. If not detected, the growing population of adult worms can create a mass that blocks blood flow and ultimately cause organ failure. The adult worms also breed and produce offspring called microfilaria. They circulate in the dog’s bloodstream, and can be sucked up by a mosquito that bites him. Within a few weeks, the microfilaria develop into infectious larvae. The next time the mosquito bites another dog, these larvae are passed along and the cycle begins all over again.
A dog may be infested with heartworms for many years without showing any signs of the infection. One of the first symptoms associated with a heartworm infection is a low cough that gets worse when the dog is more active or exerting himself. If left untreated, heartworm infection leads to lethargy, weight loss, and even coughing up blood. Eventually, in the late stages of the disease, dogs can enter congestive heart failure and may die.
The good news is that heartworm infestations are completely preventable. Your vet can recommend a preventative — usually a monthly chewable pill — to give your dog so that you’ll never have to worry about this deadly disease. Heartworm infestations are diagnosed through a blood test, and the treatment for a full-blown case of heartworms is very stressful. It consists of several painful arsenic-based injections, which kill and break up the adult worms into tiny pieces. A dog undergoing heartworm treatment must be kept confined and quiet, because these worm pieces can block vessels during strenuous exercise and cause death.
In regards to your dog’s health, especially with heartworms, prevention is key. Talk to your veterinarian about your options to protect your best friend – it could be as simple as a once-a-month. tasty chewable that your dog thinks is another treat. Very often, once symptoms of heartworm are visible and obvious, a great deal of damage is already done and might not be reversible.