What are heartworms?
So most people are aware that animals are capable of getting worms. Usually these worms are parasites that move in and make homes in our pets’ bellies. Heartworms, as you might have guessed, attack the heart and lungs. These parasites can affect both dogs and cats but for the purposes of this post, I will be exclusively speaking on canine heartworms.
Heartworms do not develop when a dog ingests a parasite, but when a larva is injected through a mosquito bite. The larva develops into an adult which eats away at the heart. What does this mean for our pets? If heartworm disease goes untreated, eventually the dog will die. Now before I send someone into a state of panic, let me clarify the process. Once the larva is successfully placed, it does not become an adult overnight nor in a couple of weeks. In fact, it takes about 6 months for a larva to become an adult worm.
How can we prevent a dog from getting heartworms?
So since mosquitoes are the culprits behind planting the larva in our dogs, and we can’t keep mosquitoes from biting them, we have to turn to medicine to help us out. As I have mentioned in the previous post, all dogs need reoccurring vaccines to keep them healthy. One in particular that I had mentioned was the heartworm preventative medicine. This is administered as an oral medication; Ivermectin being a common brand. From my experience, Ivermectin is usually paired with another common dewormer, Pyrantel. Since both are monthly orals needed, it is easier to keep them on the same schedule. You can start your pups on the preventative at around 8 weeks and they should be tested at 6 months.
There are different brands of oral pills or chews your vet can prescribe. When I first started Jack with vaccines, He was taking Trifexis. This brand protected against, heartworms, intestinal parasites as well as fleas. The only thing was, it was hard for me to get Jack to take his pill. Now I use Heartguard. It only has Pyrantel and Ivermectin, but it comes in a chew form so my dogs think they are getting a special treat each month. Your vet can offer more information as to which kind of medicine may work best for your pet.
So how does the preventative work? As I have mentioned, it is almost Impossible to keep mosquitoes from biting your dog. Once you give your dog its monthly dose of the preventative, the medicine will kill off any larvae that are present. The preventative is only designed to kill larvae, not adult worms. If you miss a dose, you can always call your vet to get back on track. Just make sure you do not double dose your pet to make up for the dose that was missed. Heartworm preventative is a helpful medicine but too much at a time can be very harmful to your pet. Think of it like taking way too much Aspirin or Tylenol at one time to get rid of a headache. Probably not the best idea.
The Positives of Being Positive
Now I know what you are probably going to say. What can be positive about having a heartworm positive dog? Well let’s start with the fact that you would be giving an animal a chance at a good life. If you choose the route of adoption, you may notice that there are plenty of dogs that are overlooked due to their heartworm status. By adopting a heartworm positive dog, you give this dog a new beginning to a great life. Another positive thing is that heartworms can be cured with treatment. There are actually 3 different methods of treating heartworms. Fast kill, slow kill and in more severe cases, surgery.
The fast kill method consists of treating the animal with a round of antibiotics, followed by 2 or 3 injections. After the injections, the animal must rest for about 6 weeks only going out for potty breaks. The slow kill method does not use the injections. According the American Heartworm Society, the slow kill method can take over a year to cure a dog. I have only heard of this method being used in certain circumstances. The surgical method is of course only recommended in extreme cases of heartworm disease. For more detailed information on heartworm disease you can refer to www.heartwormsociety.org.
Where do we go from here?
To sum everything up. Heartworm disease is very serious and easily contracted through mosquitoes. It is easily prevented through monthly doses of preventative which you can purchase in single doses, 6 or 12 month doses. Depending on the mosquito prevalence in your area, you may not need to give your dog the preventative during certain seasons. Definitely consult with your vet before making that decision. Although heartworm disease is curable, the treatment can be very strenuous for your pet and very expensive for you as an owner. Preventing heartworm disease is much more cost effective than treating. Since I live in an area where spring through early fall turns into Mosquitoville, I keep both dogs on preventative year round. I hope this article inspired you to keep protecting your pets! Be sure to drop a comment below for any questions.