Heartworm Disease – What Is It and What Causes It?

Heartworm disease is a serious disease that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets, mainly dogs, cats, and ferrets. It caused by a parasitic worm. The worms are spread through the bite of a mosquito.  The dog is the definitive host, meaning that the worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside a dog.  The mosquito is the intermediate host, meaning that the worms live inside a mosquito for a short transition period in order to become ineffective (able to cause heartworm disease).  The worms are called “heartworms” because the adults live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal.

The Heartworm Lifecycle in Dogs:

Inside a dog, a heartworm’s lifespan is 5 to 7 years.  Adult heartworms look like strands of cooked spaghetti, with males reaching about 4 to 6 inches in length and females reaching about 10 to 12 inches in length.  The number of worms living inside an infected dog is called the worm burden.

How is a Dog Tested for Heartworms?

A veterinarian uses blood tests to check a dog for heartworms. An antigen test detects specific heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released by adult female heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream.  In most cases, antigen tests can accurately detect infections with one or more adult female heartworms. The earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected in a dog’s bloodstream is about 5 months after it is bitten by an infected mosquito. The earliest that microfilaria can be detected in a dog’s bloodstream is about 6 months after it is bitten by an infected mosquito.

When Should a Dog Be Tested for Heartworms?

Dogs 5-6 months of age and older should be tested for heartworms before starting heartworm prevention.  A dog may appear healthy on the outside, but on the inside, heartworms may be living and thriving.  If a heartworm-positive dog is not tested before starting a preventive, the dog will remain infected with adult heartworms until it gets sick enough to show symptoms.

Is There a Treatment for Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

Melarsomine dihydrochloride (available under the trade names Immiticide and Diroban) is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in dogs. It’s given by deep injection into the back muscles to treat dogs with stabilized class 1, 2, and 3 heartworm disease. The treatment for heartworm disease is not easy on the dog or on the owner’s pocket book.  Treatment can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and can cause serious complications, such as life-threatening blood clots to the dog’s lungs.  Treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.

The Best Treatment is Prevention!

Source: https://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/resourcesforyou/animalhealthliteracy/ucm188470.htm

 

Let us help you keep your dogs safe!

 

You can keep your dogs safe by utilizing heartworm medication. Our veterinarian can test your dog for heartworms and help you pick affordable heartworm prevention products that are available at our Animal Hospital.

Our Animal Hospital is currently running a special – buy 6 months of heartworm medication and receive a FREE heartworm test ($20.00 value) for the same dog. Please note an exam is required before a heartworm test can be performed.

Heartworm Testing & Prevention Products: Please call 813-870-3304 to make your appointment. View Pricing

Our Animal Hospital is open Monday through Sunday from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and is located just north of the shelter at 3809 N. Armenia Avenue.