Heartworm describes a condition where parasitic worms inhabit the pulmonary arteries of dogs.
These parasites can be 12 inches long. They live in the dog’s heart, lungs and nearby blood vessels. The worms can cause severe pulmonary disease, heart failure and damage to other organs. The dog is a very receptive host to this parasite. Worms inside the animal can mature, mate and reproduce. Dogs have been known to harbor hundreds of them. The disease is most commonly found in dogs, but it can also affect cats, foxes, ferrets, coyotes, and even sea lions.
Effects of Heartworm
The damage to the heart and lungs caused by the parasites can be permanent, affecting the dog even after the worms have been eradicated. In the early stages of the disease, there are few symptoms. In more advanced stages, the dog may exhibit a mild, persistent cough, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss. As the disease progresses, the animal may develop a distended abdomen because of fluid collection.
There are treatments available for heartworm, but they have complications as well. The best course of action for heartworm is prevention.
How to Prevent Heartworm
The first thing to do is see your veterinarian. He or she will set up a heartworm prevention plan for your pet. This involves administering drugs to the animal, either by chewable tablets or by injections. These drugs are effective only when the worms are in the larval stage. They do not work on adult heartworms. That is why it is important to maintain a consistent schedule for the drugs.
Your pet should also be tested each year for heartworm. The vet may also recommend testing the dog more often if conditions indicate. By doing this, you will be sure that your dog is free of heartworm while taking the medication. To test for heartworm, the vet will take a blood sample from the dog. The test itself identifies antigens that are released into the blood by adult heartworms. However, the test is ineffective at identifying infections that are less than five months old.
Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitos, so it is important to reduce your dog’s contact with these insects as much as possible. Mosquitos are the most active in the evening, so you should attempt to keep your dog inside during this time of day.
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