Heartworms, Heart Aches

What you don’t know could be fatal. Protect your dog from the dangers of heartworm.

Often overlooked because they are not visible like fleas, heartworms present a hidden danger. Most dog owners do not realize their dog should be on a monthly heartworm preventative. Early stages can have no visible symptoms.

Late stages can include the following symptoms:

  • Persistent cough
  • Reluctance to exercise 
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss

According to the AHS, “the potential for the spread of [heartworm] is high, thanks to mosquito-friendly environmental conditions and the presence of both wild and domestic infected animals that transmit this deadly parasite to both dogs and cats.”

We wanted to make sure pet parents understood the risks, so we asked Dr. Sheldon Rubin (past AHS President) and AHS President Dr. Wallace Graham to answer some common questions surrounding heartworm. New guidelines can be found at on the American Heartworm Association website.

DC: Is it true that you need to make sure your pet is not heartworm positive before beginning treatment because if it is heartworm positive and you give it the prevention, it can kill your pet?
AHS: Unfortunately it can be true.  If the heartworm positive dog has a high number of circulating microfilaria (babies) in the blood stream, the administration of preventive medication can cause rapid kill of the “babies” and a shock-like syndrome can cause death.  That is why it is so important to have the pet blood checked before starting any prevention.

DC: Is there an age you should start a puppy on heartworm medication?
AHS: The American Heartworm Society recommends starting heartworm prevention as early as possible per the recommendation the heartworm medication your animal is on. This will usually be between 6 and 8 weeks of age.

DC: What is the survival rate of dogs with heartworm? 
AHS: The damage done to the heart and blood vessels of the lungs can be extensive in heartworm diseased dogs. While it is possible to live with a very light infection, the pet is unlikely to have a comfortable life.  In heavy infections, death is just a matter of time due to heart failure and lung disease. This is why the American Heartworm Society recommends annual testing for heartworm disease and 12 months of continued preventive medication.   Sometimes owners simply forget to give the medication to their pets and can make them susceptible. By recommending 12 months of protection there is no forgetting when to stop and start and can help save your pet’s life.

In addition, it is very difficult to ascertain in the cooler climates when to stop the prevention. Microclimates such as buildings, golf courses, parking lots, etc. have all extended the mosquito season.  Giving the heartworm medication all year will protect the pet from that one infected mosquito that gets in the house and lives in the warm inside environment while the air is cool outside.

DC: Why is the supply of melarsomine, the drug to treat heartworm, limited? 
AHS: Due to some quality control issues, the manufacturing of the product was temporarily discontinued.  Merial, manufacturer of Immiticide, is able to supply the European product to any infected dog in the United States on a case by case basis.
In addition to heartworm, The Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) reminds pet parents to pay attention to all over heart health. Just like humans, dogs can get heart disease, heart murmurs, and other problems.

According to Healthypet.com the following is a list of symptoms of heart disease in dogs that pet owners need to watch for and, if observed, should contact their vet immediately:

  • Restlessness
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Bluish tongue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Body swelling
  • Rapid or very slow heartbeat

Heart murmurs can be detected by your vet with a stethoscope, which is while yearly check-up are so important.

Don’t risk the heartache; take your dog to the vet, have them checked out, and care for his or her heart.

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