Heartworms are often known as the ‘silent killer’ of dogs because there are not always symptoms of their existence until they are at an advanced stage and are well established in the dog’s lung arteries and heart.
Dogs get Heartworms through being bitten by an infected mosquito that is carrying the infected larvae. Once the Heartworm larvae enter through the mosquito bite wound they mature in to adults inside the dog’s lung arteries, heart and surrounding blood vessels, where they reproduce. This process usually takes about 6 to 7 months. Adult heartworms can grow up to 30cm in length and they can live inside a dog for up to 7 years. In a serious infection a dog can have in excess of 200 Heartworms in its system at any one time.
In the early stages of Heartworm infection there are no obvious symptoms to the owner at all, but as the amount of Heartworms increase and crowd the organs, the infected dog will start to cough persistently, be reluctant to exercise, tire easily when exercising, have a reduction in appetite and noticeable weight loss.
If you suspect your Dog has a Heartworm infection you need to take your dog to your Vet to confirm this. Once diagnosed, the treatment is in the form of an injectable drug which kills the adult Heartworms in the blood vessels. Normally 2 or 3 injections of this drug are required depending on the severity of the infection. Your Vet will normally run some tests on your dog’s organs before treating a Heartworm infection. After treatment has been administered the Heartworms start to die and break in to small pieces, this can be dangerous as they can partially or totally block the pulmonary vessels and cause death, so for this reason it is very important for your dog to have minimal exercise for 1 – 2 months after the treatment has been completed.
As Heartworm infection is totally preventable the safest, cheapest and most ideal solution is to prevent the Heartworm infection to start with. Heartworm is easily prevented through a choice of; monthly tablets, monthly chewables, topical solutions that are applied to the skin, or 6 monthly injections. These medications interrupt the heartworm development before adult worms reach the heart and lungs where they will cause the most damage.
Due to the damage Heartworms can cause our canine friends, it is best to prevent them by following the above advice. You can then have peace of mind that your dog will not suffer from Heartworms or any of the serious damage that they cause.