Worming is critical to the health and wellbeing of your dog. Heartworm is a separate issue from other worm infestations, however, and requires separate preventative treatment.
Heartworms are a particular type of parasite that, unlike intestinal worms, lives in the blood vessels of a pet’s lung as well as the chambers of the heart. They feed on blood. While cats and ferrets can be affected, by far the most common pet affected by heartworm is the dog.
Heartworm is spread between animals via mosquito bites, which pick up and then transmit heartworm larvae. These larvae migrate through a pet’s skin, where they develop for a few days in the underlying tissues, and then move into the system of blood vessels where they mature. Adult worms reproduce in the heart and lungs within six months of initial infestation. These heartworm infestations can become so severe as to number more the two hundred worms of up to thirty centimetres long and two centimetres thick.
Heartworm affects the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and liver, however its biggest impact is on the lungs. Blood flow is restricted. The pet’s body will respond to the presence of heartworm by forming clots; there is also bleeding and inflammation.
Symptoms of heartworm disease include:
- Weight loss
- Coat dryness
- Dry, persistent cough
- Lack of energy
Severe cases will involve:
- Breathing difficulty
- Abdominal swelling
- Heart failure
- Organ damage
Heartworm disease in dogs does not cause physical symptoms for a long time, and by the time a pet shows signs, more than half of their lungs are usually affected. Early detection and prevention of heartworm disease are critical. All dogs, regardless of whether or not they attend dog day care or boarding, must be treated for heartworm prevention.
Prevention of heartworm involves either an annual injection at your vet, or monthly chewable or spot treatments. Diagnosis of infestation is achieved via a blood test.
Make sure your puppy has its first preventative heartworm treatment by age three months. If your pup is older than three months, your vet will need to check his blood to ensure he is heartworm-free, as preventative treatments can have debilitating side effects if given in the presence of an infection.
If your dog has heartworm disease, your vet will prescribe in-hospital drug therapy to kill the worms. There are risks of a blood clot forming around dying heartworms, which can be dangerous to your dog’s health. Aspirin may be given and your dog will be in hospital for a few days.
Prevention is always better than cure.