Does your dog have heartworms? It might and you would not know it.  This is because a dog heartworm disease is impossible to diagnose without a blood test that can be performed only by your veterinarian.  So, it’s possible that your dog could have heartworm disease and you would not know it until the infection begins to threaten your dog’s life.

The reason for this is that the incubation period from the time your dog is infected – to when the disease becomes life threatening -- can be as long as nine months.

If you live in a warm weather area – especially one with a lot of lakes and rivers – you need to be doubly alert about the possibility of dog heartworm disease.  For that matter, mosquito season will soon start in the Midwest and Northeast states, meaning that even dog owners in these areas will need to be alert.

Heartworms are a type of roundworm that belongs in the family of Filaridae.  Female heartworms can measure from 9-16 inches.  The males are about half this size and are characterized by corkscrew turns of their posteriors which experts often call their “pigtails.”

These worms pose a serious danger to your dog because in their adult stage, they live within the chambers of your dog’s heart and usually extend through the valves which seriously impair the heart’s operation.  In the case of a heavy infestation, heartworms migrate up the dog’s pulmonary artery and clog the blood vessels of its lungs.  This causes the dog to develop a chronic cough, lose weight and experience shortness of breath, muscular weakness and vision problems, chronic heart failure and, eventually, death.

How Does A Dog Get Heartworm?

The only way a dog can develop heartworms is by being bitten by a mosquito that has fed on another heartworm-infected dog.

When a mosquito feeds on such a dog, it picks up – along with its blood meal – microscopic creatures called microfilariae, which are tiny heartworm larvae.  When the mosquito then feeds on your dog, it deposits the infected worm larvae or microfilariae on its skin.  These larva burrow into the dog and live in its tissue where they remain for several months.

Next, the worms grow larger, leave the tissue and enter the dog’s bloodstream through the walls of a small vein.  They travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the chambers of the dog’s heart were they grow into mature heartworms.

Symptoms Of Dog Heartworm

It is almost impossible to see symptoms of heartworm in your dog until they began to threaten the dog’s life.  This is why heartworm disease is often called the “invisible killer.”

Does your dog live a sedentary life? In this case, it will show practically no symptoms until the heartworms begin to clog its heart.  On the other hand, if your dog is very active, for example if you hunt with it, you may notice that it has lost energy or coughs a lot.  These are early symptoms of heartworm disease.

When heartworm disease enters a more advanced stage, you may notice that your dog has a dull coat, is losing weight, has difficulty breathing, is experiencing fainting spells, and may have an enlarged abdomen.

Diagnosing Dog Heartworm

The only way to diagnose heartworms is through a blood test that is given by your veterinarian.  This test reveals micro-filarial activity, which indicates the presence of heartworms.  If it is found that your dog does have this disease, your vet can begin treatment to rid the dog of these intestinal parasites.

Protecting Your Dog From Heartworm

It is difficult if not impossible to prevent your dog from getting heartworms because if you live in an area with many mosquitoes, it is difficult to keep the dog from being bitten.

However, you can protect your dog by giving a dog heartworm medicine monthly.  For example, the products HeartGard Plus, Interceptor, Sentinel, and Revolution will protect your dog from getting heartworm.  Sentinel is a tablet you give to your dog monthly and Revolution is a spot-on treatment you apply to the dog’s neck.  It also includes a dog flea and sarcoptic mange preventative, and Sentinel prevents flea eggs from hatching – which protects your dog from a tapeworm infection.

Treating Heartworm In Dogs

If your dog has a heartworm infection, dog heartworm treatment involves your vet injecting your dog with a medication that containing arsenic.  He or she will inject this medication deep into the dog’s right shoulder and later that day, into its other shoulder.  This procedure will be repeated the following day and, in the very worst cases, again 2-3 weeks later.  The dog must rest between these shots and, after these treatments, must be kept indoors or on a leash for 4-6 weeks.

Dog heartworm disease can pose a serious threat to your dog.  If you do live in an area that’s mosquito infested, you should give your dog a heartworm preventative medication once a month.  You should also have it tested for heartworms on a regular basis – perhaps when the dog has its annual checkup.

This way, you can protect your dog from this serious disease so that it will have many years of a happy and healthy life.

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