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Heartworms in Dogs

“Rockwall Veterinarian Discovers The Secret Of How To Keep Your Pets Heartworm Free”

It is easier, safer, and less expensive to prevent heartworms than to treat them.  Give your dog or cat the best in preventative health care and place them on a heartworm preventative today!

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm Disease is a disease that is caused by worms that live in the heart and the surrounding large blood vessels.  It can cause death.  Today, there are more sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests for heartworm disease; therefore, we can now do a better job of screening your pet for heartworms.  Also, newer and safer preventative medications, allow us to keep your pet free of this very dangerous problems.  There are even safer treatments for heartworm infection that can improve the quality of life for many pets that unfortunately have contracted heartworm disease.

Is My Pet At Risk?

Yes.  All pets are, since the disease is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito.  Heartworm disease is a problem anywhere that mosquitoes live.  The mosquito bites an infected animal and becomes a carrier.  Outdoor pets are at a higher risk, but indoor pets can become infected too; therefore, all pets whether inside or outside should receive heartworm prevention.

What Is The Life Cycle Of Heartworms?

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquito bites.  An infected mosquito will inject several larvae into the subcutaneous tissues.  These larvae will migrate extensively throughout the body and after 6 months will enter the heart.  Here they will develop into mature worms.  These adults will grow up to 10-12 inches and will reside in the right ventricle and pulmonary artery.  The worms will obstruct the normal blood flow to the lungs and will cause considerable inflammation there.  In most cases the adult worms will produce baby larvae which will circulate in the blood stream.  These are called microfilaria.  In some cases the adult worms do not produce microfilaria and a different test called the occult heartworm test is used to identify them.  We test all dogs on an annual basis using the occult heartworm test.

How Can I Tell If My Pet Is Infected?

In the early stages of infection, most pets show no symptoms at all.  As the heartworms grow in your pet’s heart, the most common signs are coughing, weight loss, fainting, and labored breathing.  The best way to tell if your pet is infected is through a blood test.

If heartworm disease is not treated, the obstruction of blood flow and the inflammation in the lungs can produce severe clinical disease and death.  A pet will often develop severe cough and respiratory difficulty.  Fluid buildup occurs in the abdomen in advanced disease and these dogs appear potbellied.  Most of these cases die of the disease.

Is There Any Way I Can Prevent Heartworm Disease?

Yes.  First of all, your dog should be tested to make sure they are not already infected.  If they are negative, there are very safe and effective preventative medications available.

Heartworm prevention is started at 6-8 weeks of age and continued throughout life.  You should never start heartworm prevention in a dog older than 6 months without knowing his or her heartworm status.  Giving heartworm prevention to an infected pet may cause a severe reaction

Can Cats Get Heartworm Disease?

Yes.  Cats are susceptible to heartworms.  They are infected the same ways dogs are.  The presence of even one heartworm can cause coughing, labored breathing, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly death.  There is no safe treatment for cats that are infected with heartworms.  Due to the severity of complications in cats treated for heartworms, the best thing you can do is prevent your cat from contracting heartworms by using a monthly preventative.  Currently, there are only two types of heartworm prevention for cats.  Your cat should be started on one of these as early as 8 weeks old.  Currently, Pet Doctor recommends “Advantage Multi”.  It not only protects your cat from heartworms, but also fleas, ear mites and certain types of intestinal parasites.

What Is The Heartworm Treatment Protocol And Aftercare Instructions?

There are always a potential for side effects to occur, but your dog’s overall health is carefully evaluated prior to instituting heartworm treatment.  A complete physical examination, blood tests and sometimes x-rays are done to see how advanced the disease is.

If the disease is mild, they are treated using the standard protocol.  Your pet will stay at the hospital for one night and will receive two injections of a drug called “Immiticide”.  These injections kill the adult heartworms and are given in specific locations along the spine in the back muscles.  Your pet may experience some mild discomfort over the injection sites.  This will typically last 2-3 days.

If your pet has moderate to severe heartworm disease, a modified treatment to reduce side effects may be instituted.  In this case, the adult heartworm treatment using “Immiticide” will be split into two phases one month apart.  This will cause a more gradual killing of the adult worms to give the body more time to absorb the dead worms.

After discharge, your pet should be Strictly Confined during the first 4 weeks following heartworm treatment!

Your pet’s follow-up visit will be in one month.  They will stay in the hospital for the day while they receive a medication that kills the baby microfilaria.  Heartworm prevention will also be started at this time.

Your pet will need to be re-tested for heartworms in six months to make sure that treatment was successful.

Normal side effects include stiffness in the back, diarrhea, and hacking or mild coughing.  Please call our office at 972-772-7777 if your pet develops excessive coughing, respiratory distress, lethargy, or loss of appetite.

Call 972-772-7777 Now To Schedule Your Pet’s Heartworm Test!