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Norwich Bulletin - 3/21/2010

Heartworm

There are millions of dogs in the United State’s alone that do not get heartworm preventative, or that get it sporadically. Although there is treatment for heartworm, it is extremely expensive and depending on the severity at the time they are treated, the dog could die. It is much easier to prevent the disease rather than have to try to treat it.

And it is not enough to get the preventative. You have to actually give it consistently for it to be successful; i.e. be on time, every time.

What is heartworm? Exactly what it sounds like. It is a parasitic worm that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and live in the heart and lungs of mammals. For some reason, they mainly infect dogs – over a quarter million a year. When an infected mosquito bites, the larvae enters into the dog’s bloodstream and finds their way to the heart and lungs where they grow undetected, usually for about seven months, until the symptoms appear.

By this time the worms are fully grown and can damage the heart, lungs and other vital organs significantly. Cat owners – know that cat cats are very rarely infected with heartworm, which is why they are not offered any type of preventative.

The mosquito has no preference as to breed, so any dog, any age, from puppy to an elder, is subject to heartworm. Some parts of the country, like the Midwest and south, have more heartworm carrying mosquitoes than we do, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in New England. Areas with cold winters will generally have a mosquito season and you could just give the preventative during that time. But in the warmer climates, you would really need to give your dog year round protection.

If you don’t use the preventative and the symptoms appear, the chance of successful treatment decreases. If nothing else, test your dog every year at their annual checkup so you will know right at the beginning if your pet has developed heartworm. Otherwise you will eventually see fatigue, coughing and abnormal lung sounds. And if it is advanced, there will be difficulty breathing, fluid in the abdomen, loss of consciousness and abnormal heart sounds. As that point, your dog is in serious condition.

Heartworm is treated with an adulticide by way of a series of injections. Another series is an orally administered microfilaricide that kills the immature worms. These worms are called microfilariae and when adult heartworms mate, these immature worms are released into the bloodstream. If you have given your dog a yearly heartworm test and it comes out that the dog has heartworm but has not shown any symptoms up to that point, chances are that the treatment will be successful and end with the passing of dead worms through the organs and blood vessels.

But dogs that are already coughing or have other symptoms may die from the actual “cure.” And without the treatment, they will definitely die. Many people who felt that they could not afford the heartworm preventative cannot afford the treatment as it is ten times more expensive to treat heartworm. They generally have to put their dog down.

So if you have not been giving your dog a heartworm preventative, you need to get your dog a blood test and when it comes back negative, you can begin the preventative treatment. You have to wait for a negative test though, because some preventatives can cause fatal reactions if you give them to an already infected dog. Make the test a yearly thing and you can rest well that your dog stays healthy.

There are various types of preventative medication and they also vary in price. Therefore, you have a lot of choices to find something that can fit into your budget. A daily chewable tablet remains the least expensive. They are in treat form – but you must remember to give it every single day. Missing a few days puts your dog at the same risk as if you had never given him any type of preventative at all.

Monthly pills or tablets oftentimes prevent against other worms as well. You have to make sure that your dog does not spit them out, of course. This is what we use and we find that a piece of turkey works wonder for our people food begging Dogo. And, there are also the topicals which work much like your flea preventative treatments. And the easiest and probably the most expensive is a shot administered by your vet that will last for six months!

Mosquitoes are a pesky way of life. Most of us who live in the country near any kind of stagnant water are at the greatest risk. I have a bat house in my front and back yards, as well as a garden spider (whenever I can lure one to stay), so I have less bugs in general swarming around our outside lights during the season. But that doesn’t mean you should not give the preventative medicine – it’s just one more safety factor to consider to keep your best friend safe.

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