Heartworm Basics for Dog Owners

If you own a dog, it’s important that you keep him or her protected against dangerous pests. Heartworm is one of the most hazardous and common pests out there! Learn more about heartworm symptoms, treatment, and prevention in this article from a Shawnee, KS vet.

How Do Dogs Get Heartworm?

Mosquitoes pick up an immature form of heartworms, called microfilariae, when they bite an animal that is already infested. Inside the mosquito, the microfilariae develop into heartworm larvae. The larvae are transmitted to your dog via the mosquito bite. Next, the larvae grow into adult worms inside your dog and start migrating through bodily tissue toward the heart.

What are the Symptoms of Heartworm?

The signs of heartworm include lethargy, weight loss, coughing, loss of appetite, breathing trouble, and—if treatment isn’t administered promptly—heart failure and even death. Adult dogs may not show signs of heartworm infestation for some time after initial infestation; signs might not show up for six months or more in some cases. This is one reason why heartworm is so dangerous!

How Are Infestations Treated?

First, a sample of your dog’s blood must be taken to determine whether or not there are heartworms present in your dog’s system. If the test shows that heartworms are in fact present, treatment will be started promptly. Medications like ivermectin or melarsomine are most often prescribed to kill off both the adult worms and microfilariae in your dog’s body. Treatment can prove risky, and it can take a long time—your dog must be closely monitored throughout the treatment process. Activity level must be kept to a minimum so that the heart isn’t overworked.

How Is Heartworm Prevented?

Obviously, preventing heartworm is always easier and safer than treating it. Preventative medications kill off the microfilariae in your dog’s body before they have a chance to develop into adult worms. Most veterinarians recommend that your dog remain on a year-round preventative for constant protection. Preventatives come in ointment or gel form that get applied directly to your dog’s skin, or they come as chewable pills or tablets. Some heartworm medications are also injectable, administered via syringe at your vet’s office. Consult your veterinarian to find out which method might work best for your dog.

Do you want to know more about heartworm and how to keep your dog safe from this dangerous pest? Call your Shawnee, KS animal hospital today.

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