If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably heard the term “heartworm disease” being thrown around and seen ads for heartworm prevention medications on TV or in magazines. But is it really necessary? And what is heartworm disease anyway?
What are heartworms? Heartworms are literally worms that can live in a dog’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Adult worms can be 12 inches long and live for five to seven years in a dog. Once they have matured, they reproduce causing the number of heartworms to quickly multiply. This can lead to more serious damage to the heart and lungs and can be potentially fatal.
How do dogs contract heartworms? Heartworm disease is spread through mosquitoes. If an infected animal is bitten, tiny microfilaria (microscopic heartworms) from the blood stream are picked up by the mosquito. When the mosquito bites a dog, the disease is spread. Dogs cannot contract heartworm disease from other dogs or animals, only from mosquitoes. While the disease is found throughout the United States, it is more prevalent along the Gulf Coast and Southeastern region.
Can cats get heartworms? While cats can develop heartworms, it is less common than in dogs, and the worms often die before they reach the adult stage. Dogs are a natural host for the disease while cats are not.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease? Dogs may show few to no symptoms in the early stages of heartworm disease. Once it has had time to develop and the worms multiply, symptoms become more noticeable. These signs include:
- Mild cough
- Decreased appetite
- Fluid retention in the abdomen
If left untreated, heartworm disease can be fatal. It can lead to heart failure and block the flow of blood within the heart. Early detection and treatment are key in addition to administering preventive medication.
Is heartworm disease treatable? Yes, the condition is treatable. Once the veterinarian diagnoses the disease, they will start the dog on a treatment protocol to kill both mature and immature worms. They will also provide other recommendations such as limiting exercise during treatment and engaging in other therapies as necessary. In addition, they can check to see how much damage has been done and whether there may be long-term effects that need to be addressed.
Is heartworm disease preventable? Yes, there are medications that you can give your dog to prevent heartworm disease. It is incredibly important to be vigilant about remembering to give your dog this medication on the same day each month for continued protection. Dogs should also be tested annually to check for the disease. The earlier it is caught, the better the prognosis.
Regardless of where you live, it is a good idea to protect your dog from heartworms by using a preventive medication year round. At Lake Wylie Pet Resort, we encourage owners to follow prevention treatment guidelines as dogs do spend time outdoors at the facility, and it is possible for mosquitoes to get indoors as well. It is better to be proactive about your dog’s health and well-being.