Dog owners understand that proper nutrition, exercise, and vaccinations play a huge role in their dog's health. Some dog owners, however, might overlook the importance of heartworm prevention. When an infected mosquito bites your dog, it could cause Fido to have heartworm. The larvae from the worm gets deposited directly into a dog's bloodstream.
As the larvae develops, it takes up residence in a dog's lungs, heart, and other vital organs. These worms look like cooked spaghetti. Adult female heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long. It's possible for up to 250 worms to take residence in a dog's organs. When left untreated, heartworm disease can cause your dog to become very ill. For some pets, heartworm disease is fatal.
Heartworm disease in dogs goes through four stages, each with its own set of symptoms. During the first stage of heartworm, there might not be any symptoms present. During the second and third stages, symptoms to look for include:
- Swelling in the joints
- Loss of appetite
- Reluctance to exercise
- Mild persistent cough
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Weight loss
During the third stage, dogs might also cough up blood. If heartworm reaches the fourth stage, symptoms will be more severe and the dog will be very ill.
Heartworm Treatment and Prevention
To protect your dog from heartworm, it's important to have them examined by a veterinarian on a regular basis. If you suspect your dog has heartworm, you should have them tested for it. During the second stage of the disease, heartworm can be detected with a blood test. During the later stages, heartworm will show up on x-rays. If the veterinarian has determined your dog has heartworm, Fido may have to stay at the animal hospital for treatment. The vet will give your dog medication to kill the heartworms. In the worst cases, a veterinarian will have to surgically remove the heartworms.
While it is possible to treat heartworm, you should do everything you can to prevent your dog from getting this disease in the first place. There is no vaccination for heartworm. However, there are different heartworm preventatives to choose from. These options include pills, topical medications, and injections.
To get a heartworm preventative for your dog, you will need is a prescription from your veterinarian. The veterinarian will prescribe the right kind of preventative based on your dog's overall health. A vet will also perform a heartworm test to ensure your dog doesn't already have the disease.