Heartworm disease is exactly what it sounds like – worms in the heart. When a single mosquito infected with heartworm larvae bites a dog, the larvae are transmitted into the dog’s bloodstream. Over a period of several months, these larvae mature into adult heartworms which can reach more than a foot in length and take up residence in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. As these vessels become inflamed and scarred, as well as clogged with worms, blood flow becomes obstructed, resulting in damage to lungs, liver and kidneys. Restricted blood flow also causes pulmonary hypertension, overloading the heart which, untreated, eventually leads to heart failure.
It may take years for signs to show but as the disease advances, the dog may cough, exhibit weakness or lethargy, fainting, and even sudden death is possible. By the time these symptoms manifest, the disease has already caused much damage. Although heartworm treatment is available, it is expensive and not without risk and much pain for the dog. As the worms die and decompose, they can clog smaller blood vessels, posing danger for the dog. To minimize this, the dog must adhere to strict crate rest for one month. And, in cases, where severe organ damage has been sustained, killing the heartworms still may not save the dog’s life. Surviving dogs may need lifetime treatment for organ damage. The sooner the disease is diagnosed and treated, the better chance for a good outcome.
Despite the fact that heartworm disease is easily preventable, it is, sadly, not uncommon. Once believed to be a problem of only coastline states, heartworm disease is now found in dogs from all 50 states of the US, indeed all over the world. All it takes is one infected mosquito to bite your dog in the house or while he goes out to potty. Heavy coated dogs are not immune. Mosquitoes can bite through the coat as well as vulnerable areas such as the face, belly, and legs.
Don’t let your dog contract heartworm disease when it is so easily preventable. Several preventatives, including oral and topical, are available and some kill other parasites as well. To avoid the expense and suffering that heartworm disease causes, talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate preventative for your dog. If you love your dog, heartworm preventative is one thing you simply cannot afford to cut out of your budget. Heartworm prevention is imperative. Heartworm prevention for your dog must be a priority.