Heartworm disease is a very serious parasitic disease that has the potential to be fatal for your dog if he is not treated quickly. This parasite is a worm that can grow up to a foot long and lives inside the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of an infected animal where it will reproduce over and over. Heartworms have a lifespan of up to seven years, and it is not unheard of for a badly infested dog to have upwards of 150 worms living in their body. By clogging up these organs and blood vessels, the worms cause irreversible damage to the them and other body systems. Eventually, if not treated, your dog is almost guaranteed to die from heart failure.
Heartworms are spread by mosquitos. When a mosquito feeds on an animal with heartworms, they take some of the infection into their body in the form of microscopic baby worms known as microfilaria. They then pass these on to them next animal that they bite. These microscopic larvae enter your dog’s bloodstream where they migrate to the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels. It takes around seven months for them to grow into adult heartworms, but once they do, they are capable of reproducing. Since they have such a long lifespan, it is possible for a single heartworm to reproduce many times. As such, it is not surprising that the number of worms in a dog can grow rapidly.
If you have two dogs and only one has heartworms, there is no risk of them passing the disease on to your other pet. Although dogs are the natural host for heartworms, they can also affect cats, ferrets, foxes and wolves.
As a dedicated and compassionate owner, you will invariably want to do all you can to keep your dog safe from this awful disease. The good news is that heartworms are entirely preventable.
Before you can start your dog on preventative medications, he first needs to be tested for heartworms. In fact, any vet in Ponte Vedra, FL will insist that heartworm testing is either part of your canine’s annual wellness exams or recommended as a result of a wellness exam. This is for two reasons. Firstly, to ensure that his preventative program is working, and secondly, because the symptoms of a heartworm infestation don’t tend to become apparent until there are a large number present in his body. Dogs are masters of disguising the face that they are unwell and will keep going until they cannot cover their symptoms any longer. Equally, heartworm symptoms don’t usually appear until after they reach adulthood – approximately seven months after becoming infected. If at the initial test, your dog is found to have heartworms, treatment will be needed before prevention can begin. However, if your dog is in the clear, he can be started on monthly medication to protect him from the disease.
Heartworm preventatives are generally given as a monthly dose and are available in several different types. These include monthly pills that you can hide in his food and topical treatments that you place on his skin that will deter mosquitos. Currently, there is also an injectable preventative that will protect your dog for up to six months at a time. The most important thing to remember with any preventative is to stick to the schedule of administering doses as recommended by your vet. Being even a couple of days late could leave your canine pal at risk of contracting heartworms. Make sure you carefully track the dates that you administer your choice of preventative and set reminders for the next dose. If you aren’t sure which preventative to choose, consult with your veterinarian.
Everyone knows that veterinary bills can be expensive, and many owners are concerned about the cost of preventative medications for their pets. Firstly, we can assure you that preventing heartworms is far less expensive than having to treat the condition. In fact, a year’s supply of heartworm medication typically comes in at between $40 and $100 – that is less than the price of two fancy store-bought coffees a month for the whole year. When you consider that research has found that the average cost of treating a canine with heartworms is between $400 and $1000, prevention definitely illustrates good value for money. And of course, that is without taking into account that you can prevent your dog from a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering, and irreversible damage to his health.
If you would like more information on heartworm prevention, our friendly and experienced veterinarians in Ponte Vedra, FL would be happy to help. Please contact us by calling our Animal Hospital in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL at today.
Published April 1, 2019