Heartworm Disease in Dogs | Petlebi

Dog Health

Although it is our greatest wish that our paw friends are always healthy, it is very important to accept that they may experience various health problems, in order to be able to recognize their diseases at an early stage and to enable them to start treatment. Although heartworm disease in dogs is a health problem that can be seen in many animals, the course and treatment of the disease differs in dogs. In this article, you can find out what you need to know about heartworm disease in dogs.

dog sitting in the grass

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a disease that causes serious problems in animals and can be fatal. As the name suggests, this ailment is caused by worms living in the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Heartworm disease can cause serious lung diseases and heart failure, as well as damage other organs in the body. Heartworms are found in cats, dogs, and ferrets. It can also be seen in wild wolves, jackals, foxes, sea lions and very rarely in humans. Heartworm disease progresses quite differently in cats and dogs. While wolves in cats do not survive when they become adults, the situation is much different in dogs.

How Does Heartworm Affect Dogs?

Dogs serve as natural hosts for heartworms. This means that heartworms can grow, mate, and reproduce inside dogs’ bodies. If left untreated, the population of wolves can increase. A sick dog can have hundreds of heartworms. In dogs, Dirofilaria immitis can cause permanent heart, lung and vascular diseases. Even after treatment, it takes a long time for the dog’s health and quality of life to recover. Therefore, the best option is to act conservatively. However, once the parasite is infected, it is extremely important to treat it without delay and to eliminate the condition in the early stages.

How is Heartworm Transmitted?

Mosquitoes play a vital role in the spread of heartworm. The worms found in the infected dog release microscopic baby worms called Microfilaria into the blood. When the mosquito bites, these puppies take the worms and allow them to develop and grow. Within 10 to 14 days, these wolf pups reach the infected level. When the mosquito carrying the worms bites another dog, it releases the larvae. After being bitten, it takes 6 months for the worms to reach adulthood. After wolves become adults, they can live for 5 – 7 years in the dog’s body and 2-3 years in the cat’s body. Due to their long life cycle, there is an incredible increase in the number of infected dogs each mosquito season.

sluggish dog

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

There are not many symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the duration of infection increases, new symptoms appear. Among the most common symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs are;

  • Moderate persistent cough
  • aversion to physical activity,
  • Extreme tiredness after physical activity
  • Anorexia
  • There are symptoms such as weight loss.

In the advanced stages of the disease, bloated abdominal disorders occur due to heart failure or excess fluid accumulating in the abdomen. In addition, sudden blockages can be seen in the veins of dogs with many heartworms. Fatal cardiovascular collapse can occur due to sudden blockages. This condition is called kava syndrome. Symptoms of kava syndrome in dogs include shortness of breath, pale lips, and dark red or brown urine. Few dogs survive if the obstruction is not removed by surgical intervention. In cases where a blockage occurs, it is necessary to intervene in a very short time.

What Are the Risk Factors of Heartworm Disease?

Even if the factors that can cause heartworm are not seen where you live, this does not change the fact that your dog is at risk. Heartworm diseases can be seen in different regions every year. Especially thanks to the windy weather, the fact that mosquitoes can travel long distances increases the risk of spreading this disease significantly. Heartworm infections can be seen in almost every region and it is close to impossible to predict risk factors. Even dogs that rarely leave the house can be in the risk group because of the mosquitoes in question. For this reason, it is recommended to give heartworm test every 12 months and heartworm preventive medicine every 12 months. Heartworm medication is very effective, but dogs can still get infections. Even missing a dose can leave the dog unprotected.

What You Need to Know About the Heartworm Test for Dogs

Heartworm disease is a very serious and rapidly spreading disease. The earlier it is detected, the better the chances of survival. Very few cats or dogs with heartworm show symptoms in the early stages. Therefore, regular testing is recommended. During the test, a small amount of blood is drawn and checked for heartworm proteins in the blood. Some veterinarians perform this test in their own practice, while others send test samples to laboratories for evaluation. If the test is positive, additional tests are carried out.

When Should Dogs Have a Heartworm Test?

The testing process for heartworm differs in cats and dogs. All dogs must be tested once a year. Preventive treatment can be done without testing in the period before puppies are 7 months old. It may take up to 6 months for the dog to test positive after infection. For this reason, testing again 6 months after the first visit ensures that the dog does not have heartworm in any way. In adult dogs over 7 months of age, preventive treatment can be applied after the test. It is also recommended that adult dogs be tested once, 6 months after the initial test schedule, and then have regular blood tests every year thereafter. In cases where the vaccination order is broken, it is necessary to have a test before vaccination.

dog lying under blanket

What to Do When Your Heartworm Test Is Positive

Although no one wants to hear that their dog has heartworm, many dogs diagnosed with heartworm can successfully overcome this condition. The primary goal of treatment is to stabilize symptoms. Afterwards, treatment aims to kill both adult and larval heartworms, keeping the side effects of the disease to a minimum. When the first antigen test is positive, a secondary test is performed for confirmation. Because heartworm treatment is complex and expensive, it is necessary to make sure that the infection is present. Immediately after verification, activities should be restricted first. Although this is difficult for dogs who love to run and play, it is necessary. Because excessive activity increases the damage done by heartworms to the heart.

The condition of the infected dog must be stabilized before heartworm treatment can be started. In dogs with severe heartworm disease or other conditions, this process can take several months. A treatment plan is then made. In cases where there are no symptoms or few symptoms such as cough, the chance of treatment is very high. Successful results can be achieved in more severe cases, but more severe complications can also occur. There is no correlation between the severity of the discomfort and the severity of the symptoms. In other words, mild symptoms can be seen in a dog that is very sick. Testing is performed 6 months after treatment is completed to ensure that all heartworms have disappeared. Afterwards, preventive treatments are applied for a year to ensure that the infection does not recur.

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