Risks and prevention of heartworm disease

Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm that spreads among hosts through mosquito bites. While it can infect many animals, the most common host is the dog. The small, thread-like worm is called "heartworm" because the adult reproductive stage of its life cycle takes place in the right atrium of the host animal, where it may live for years afterward.

Though heartworm can result in serious disease if left untreated, prophylactic measures do exist, and every canine companion should be equipped with the knowledge to defeat this ailment before it ever occurs.

Heartworm Symptoms

The reason that heartworm still runs rampant in dog populations and that preemptive heartworm medication is preferred to later treatment is that dogs show absolutely no signs of heartworm infection during the six months prior to the maturing of the worm. Even after full adult infection, many dogs, especially less active canines, will continue to show little or no sign of infection. However, active canines, and those with more severe infections, will display a cough and early exhaustion from exercise. More advanced cases will eventually progress to severe weight loss, coughing up of blood, fainting and finally, congestive heart failure.

Heartworm Treatment

Once the pet is diagnosed, its kidney, liver and heart function must be evaluated to determine the level of risk associated with treatment, since such treatments can include aggressive use of arsenic-based solutions to kill the worm. After treatment, the dog must rest and reduce exercise for several weeks in order for its body to wholly absorb the dead heartworm without consequence. Otherwise, dead worms can break loose and travel to the lungs, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure. If the heart involvement is substantial, surgical removal of the heartworm may also be an option.

Heartworm Prevention

Fortunately for the canine population, heartworm medicine is available as an effective preventive measure. These medicines take the form of chewable tablets that are administered to the dog orally on a regular, usually daily, basis. The most popular and reputable options include Heartgard, Sentinel, Interceptor, Pfizer Filaribits and Advantage. The pet owner should undertake basic research in choosing which tablet to use; while their differences are mostly cosmetic, some versions are coupled with flavors or additional benefits such as flea control.

By Eric Bailey

Posted by Courtney on May 04,2014 at 02:54 PM
omgosh i know exactly how you feel my 3 yr old male chi wont eat his EVER, even when i put it in his faivorte food and mix it around somehow he always knows and eats around it. what i have to do is put it in his mouth and gently push it to the back of his throat with my finger, he will eventually swallow it,but it might take a few tries.edit: its not traumatizing at all, chis are filled with love and he will forget about it 2 minutes later, reward him with a treat after if you feel bad its okay, i did too but your doing it to protect him from things he cant protect himself from!
Posted by Bere on April 03,2013 at 07:15 PM
Help!! I don't know what's wrong with my puppy for 3 weeks straight has been having these hiccup like movements an when she breathes she also sounds like something's popping in her nose she has very heavy brething she is very weak and looses her balance very easily while walking she is 2-3 months old I can't afford a big vet bill so can someone please help me! Thank you very much!
Posted by Angelica Dye on March 16,2012 at 05:39 PM
My dog is a Chihuahua and she is coughing non stop and she also has a knot on her stomch. My mom said its maybe a tumer. What do you think it is?
Posted by Tiffany on February 27,2010 at 05:34 PM
My Chihuahua does cough after running and also vomits a foam looking liquid. I took him to the vet after he'd been lost for 2 weeks and the vet said that he had bronchitis and gave antibiotics, plus he wormed him. Another concern is that he sits with his head down on the ground and his butt up in the air. I'm really worried. What do you think?
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