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Heartworms and Your Pet

Veterinarians and Pet Care
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If you own a pet, you need to ask your vet about heartworm prevention and treatment. Many times the information will be given to you when you first adopt or buy a pet and take him for his initial check up and core vaccines. As with many diseases, prevention is the key to making sure you never have to worry about heartworms affecting your pet’s health.
Here are a few facts about heartworms your vet will share with you when you visit:

What are Heartworms?

The worm itself is a parasite that is transmitted to dogs by mosquitos that have fed off of an infected animal. Once introduced into the pet, dirofilaria immitis larvae migrate through the tissues and into the blood vessels, where they end up in the right side of the heart and pulmonary arteries. While there, they mature within about 5-7 months and have a life span of about 5 years. They can be up to two feet long and can number 100 or more at one time.

What Symptoms are Associated with Heartworms?

The heartworms can seriously obstruct the normal healthy blood flow in the heart, arteries and the rest of the body. If left untreated, heartworms can be fatal, and even with treatment, the damage left by the worms can leave serious health problems from which a dog may not recover.

Dogs with heartworm infections that are not severe sometimes have few if any signs. Some symptoms of the disease include coughing, jaundice, weakness, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing and fainting. If the disease progresses, congestive heart failure can occur.

Heartworm Treatment

The treatment for an active heartworm infection can take a long time and is not without risks. It is, however, safer than it used to be. The new medication given is melarsomine dihydrochloride, which is given in injections and kills the adult and immature heartworms. The side effects are fewer than with other medications given in the past. They include lethargy, lack of appetite, drooling, increased heart rate and retching. Dogs undergoing treatment must be watched and controlled during treatment.

Screening for Heartworms

If your dog has not been screened for heartworms, it’s important to ask a vet to do so at your next visit. They can test for heartworms and suggest a preventive medication for monthly use. When used correctly, these treatments are almost 100% effective against heartworms. Monthly combination treatments are also available that will guard your dog against a variety of threats, such as fleas, ticks and other parasites as well.

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