What are the chances of a dog getting heartworms?
A potentially deadly disease for many species of animals, dogs are highly susceptible to heartworm infection. Spread by infected mosquitoes, incidence rates are highest along the coasts and near major waterway, such as the Mississippi River. A recent study found that nearly half of all dogs not on a heartworm preventative in these areas came down with the disease. With that said, heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 U.S. states.
What is heartworm disease in dogs?
Once bitten by an infected mosquito, the heartworm larvae will take about six or seven months to mature into adult heartworms inside your dog. They then begin to reproduce and congregate in the lungs, blood vessels, and the heart. These adult worms can grow up to a foot in length and have a lifespan of five to seven years. A dog can survive with as many as 250 worms in its system, although the disease will cause a whole host of serious health problems.
Because they are parasites, heartworms must feed of their hosts, specifically on the nutrients in their blood. When the worms grow into mature bloodsuckers and there are a large number of them, your furry friend will begin to experience symptoms of heartworm infestation.
The single most common sign your dog is suffering from heartworms is a precipitous decline in energy level. Since the heartworms steal the nutrients your dog needs to stay active, your pouch may refuse to engage in activities once enjoyed, such as walking, playing fetch, or swimming. Your pet may seem lethargic or dazed, even during the day.
In extreme cases, your dog may lose a significant amount of weight, even if the diet remains unchanged. A persistent, hacking cough is another unmistakable symptom of heartworm disease, since the worms also migrate to the lungs. Rapid breathing may ensue shortly thereafter.
Diagnosis of Heartworm Disease in Dogs
According to most veterinarians, your dog should be tested for heartworm disease at least once a year. If caught at an early stage, the immature worms are relatively easy to exterminate. But once they have reached maturity, heartworms can cause serious health problems, even death. The diagnosis involves a simple blood test for antigens and is inexpensive and extremely accurate.
If your dog tests positive for the disease, treatment can take several months if the worms have reached adulthood, since they are more difficult to kill than immature worms. It can also be quite painful and your furry friend will have to rest for several months following treatment to prevent dead worms from entering the lungs.
Prevention of Heartworms in Dogs is the Key
Heartworm disease is completely preventable. A tasty and inexpensive monthly chewable is all you need to protect your dog from the potentially deadly condition. These medications must be given year round, even during the colder months when mosquitoes are less prevalent. Let us take a moment to discuss two of the most popular heartworm preventatives on the market today.
Heartgard Plus for Dogs
In addition to eradicating immature heartworms, Heartgard Plus tasty monthly chewable kills hookworms and roundworms as well. Safe for canines six weeks and older, the powerful FDA-approved chemicals in Heartgard Plus for Dogs can control heartworms in your canine friend. As with any prescription medication, it is important to speak with your veterinarian before giving it to your pet. Heartgard Plus is sold in packs of 6 or 12 and must be administered once a month, either with food or on its own.
Iverhart Max Flavored Chewables for Dogs
One of the most complete monthly medications on the market today, Iverhart Max Flavored Chewables protects your pouch from hookworm, tapeworm, roundworm, and heartworm. Classified as an anthelminthic or dewormer, it contains ingredients that destroy immature worm infestation in short order. In fact, each ingredient is designed to target a specific type of worm. Ivermectin, for example, kills heartworm larvae soon after it is ingested.
Safe for canines over the age of 8 weeks, most veterinarians will test for heartworms before prescribing this medication. Owners should follow dosing instructions while making sure not to miss a dose. If a dosage is missed, you should contact your veterinarian.
Now is the time to visit your pet’s veterinarian for a heartworm blood test and to talk about the best heartworm preventative for your pet and your area. There are other preventatives than those listed above. Leave a comment below and let us all know which heartworm prevention you use for your dog and your area.