Jul 13 2015

Summer is here. Protect your dog from heartworm.

Summer is upon us! That means days are longer, pools are open, and mosquitoes are plentiful. It is important, now more than ever, to be vigilant with your pet’s heartworm prevention.
Heartworms are large worms that are spread via a mosquito bite. The mosquito takes a meal from an animal that is infected with heartworms (your neighborhood coyote or fox) and then takes a bite of your dog. Your dog has now been infected with heartworm disease. It’s that simple.
So once your dog is bit by a heartworm infected mosquito, what happens to your dog? It takes about 6 months for the heartworms to migrate from the skin to the blood vessels that go from the heart to the lungs (pulmonary arteries). The worms live and grow within the pulmonary arteries for 5-7 years.
Because the worms take up space in the pulmonary arteries, the heart has to work harder and harder to pump blood to the lungs. This takes a huge toll on the heart muscle. Blood ends up backing up into the heart and causes severe enlargement. With time, these animals develop right sided congestive heart failure.
A simple blood test tells veterinarians if your dog has heartworms living within the heart. We recommend that this be done annually to ensure continued negative heartworm status as dogs can be completely asymptomatic for heartworm disease if it is early enough in the disease process. They can also have very subtle signs of heartworm disease such as coughing or mild exercise intolerance. However, over time, more and more damage is done to the heart and lungs, and dogs become more and more sick. End-stage heartworm disease presents as right sided congestive heart failure. These dogs will be very lethargic and often have distended abdomens full of fluid. The scary thing about heartworm disease is once the damage is done to the heart and lungs, it cannot be reversed. We can treat the symptoms and make our patients more comfortable, but heart failure is a terminal disease.
There is a drug called Immiticide that we can use to kill the adult worms. This is not an easy treatment for owners or for their pets. Dogs must be exercise restricted for 6 months (cage rest only, no playing, no running, and no jumping). This reduces the risk of small clots forming in the lungs (pulmonary thromboemboli). Immiticide is given as an injection deep within the back muscles of the dog. The injection is very painful, although we do try to reduce this pain with medications. It is most safe and effective for dogs to get 3 injections. One is given at the beginning of treatment, and the next two are given one month later one day apart. Again, this kills the adult worms, which prevents further damage to the dog; however it does not reverse any of the damage already done. Because of this, animals may remain symptomatic after treatment.
The easier road with heartworm disease is prevention. We approach prevention from two angles: preventing mosquitoes and preventing transmission of disease.
Mosquito prevention involves removing all standing water sources from your yard. Stagnant water sources are mosquito breeding grounds.
Preventing disease transmission is as simple as giving your dog a treat once monthly or applying a topical medication to your dogs back. There are tons of different heartworm prevention products to choose from. Stop by Mobile Veterinary Clinic and talk with Dr. Michael Reid, Dr. Brianna Reid Favret, or Dr. Julie Hoberman for more information about the pros and cons of each product to find the one that is best for yours’ and your pets lifestyle.
We recommend that all dogs are on heartworm prevention monthly throughout the entire year. Even if your pet never sets a foot outside, mosquitoes can easily get in your house and just one bite can lead to life long, lasting damage. Mobile Veterinary Clinic is currently treating 5 new cases of heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is here in Connecticut and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. The American Heartworm Society is reporting 25-50 cases per clinic in our area. (https://www.heartwormsociety.org/images/incidence-maps/IncidenceMap2013.pdf).
The bottom line when it comes to heartworm disease- prevention is best!

For more information about heartworm disease contact the doctors at Mobile Veterinary Clinic.

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