Veterinarian Dr. Marc, writes for pet insurance provider, Pets Best Insurance.
1) What are heartworms and how do dogs get them?
Heartworm dog disease, or dirofilariasis, is a potentially serious disease seen primarily in dogs throughout the United States (and other areas). Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquito, meaning that dogs that spend even a short amount of time outside are susceptible to the disease.
Transmission occurs when a mosquito bites an infected host that is shedding microfilariae (immature heartworms). The microfilariae develop within the mosquito until the mosquito bites a new host and the larvae are transmitted. This is clinically important because without the mosquito, heartworm disease cannot be contracted. Once inside the new host, the heartworm larvae migrate and develop until reaching their ultimate destination in the pulmonary arteries. Once in the pulmonary arteries, the adult heartworms will start producing microfilariae and the life cycle starts over.
2) What are the signs and symptoms of heartworm disease?
Due to the systemic nature of having heart problems, many different symptoms are possible with heartworm disease. However, heartworm positive dogs are generally classified into one of 4 categories of symptom severity.
In class 1 animals, they generally have no clinical symptoms with the exception of a possible mild cough.
Class 2 dogs may have coughing, fatigue, and weight loss, but not heart failure.
Class 3, they may have constant fatigue, persistent cough, difficulty breathing, liver problems and may be in congestive heart failure.
Lastly, class 4 dogs have all of the previously mentioned symptoms and often liver failure, low blood pressure, shock, and death.
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3) How is heartworm prevented and treated?
Preventing heartworm in canines is very easy, relatively inexpensive, and generally safe. Heartworm disease can easily be prevented by administering a monthly heartworm preventative. There are a variety of products available in today’s market; however, they do require a prescription from a veterinarian. Additionally, many heartworm products also help prevent and treat other types of parasites. Your veterinarian can help you decide which product is best for your dog in your area. Treating heartworms in a dog can range from very easy to very difficult. In mild cases of heartworm disease, an animal may be able to be treated with a series of injections to kill the adult heartworms. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the worms. Some cases with heavy infestations cannot be treated successfully.
Heartworm disease is a common and widespread problem in dogs. I strongly recommend talking with your veterinarian about the best way to control and prevent this mosquito driven disease. The Pets Best wellness plan covers heartworm preventative medication.
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