This April is about more than just the start of spring—it’s also National Heartworm Awareness Month.
Unfortunately, many owners are unaware of this tiny, but deadly, parasite. That’s a frightening thought considering that heartworm is transmitted by mosquitos, and with the weather warming up, your dog is spending more time outside in the vicinity of mosquitos.
To prepare for this month—and keep your four-legged friend healthy—check out these three tips on heartworm prevention for dogs.
Heartworm Can Cause Lasting Damage
Heartworms may be small, but they can have a dangerous impact on your dog’s health.
Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitos, which pick up the larvae of microfilaria circulating in the blood of an infected animal. When they bite your dog, the larvae make their way from the mosquito into your dog’s bloodstream.
From there, they make their way into the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels (thus the common name heartworms). They can grow into foot-long worms if left to mature for about six months. And since they have all the resources they need from feeding off your dog, they can reproduce inside your dog once they reach maturity.
Unfortunately, dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, which means they’re the perfect place for heartworms to grow, mature, and multiply. Untreated dogs have been known to harbor hundreds of these worms in their bodies. And once they’re mature, heartworms can live anywhere from five to seven years in dogs or two to three years in cats.
Heartworms cause lasting damage to a dog’s heart, lungs, and arteries even after the parasites are removed. As the heartworms progress, your dog may have a persistent cough, fatigue after moderate activity, and an inexplicable decrease in appetite.
Check in with Your Vet
Heartworm can be treated once it’s spotted, but the best treatment is prevention.
The last several years have seen a rise in incidents of heartworm, primarily in the rural south in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee. But heartworm infection is considered regionally endemic in every state except Alaska.
Even if you live in an area that’s not considered regionally endemic, it’s best to get your dog on year-round heartworm medication. This medication can only be obtained from a veterinarian or through a prescription written by a veterinarian, so it’s best to start the conversation early.
Know the Signs and Stay Bug-Free
Even with heartworm medicine, it’s best to take preventative measures and keep an eye on your dog for any signs of heartworm.
Heartworm is broken into four stages:
- Class 1: no symptoms or mild symptoms (a mild cough)
- Class 2: mild to moderate symptoms (moderate cough, tiredness after moderate activity)
- Class 3: trouble breathing and signs of heart failure, persistent cough, and tiredness after mild activity
- Class 4: caval syndrome (the mass of worms is physically blocking the flow of blood back to the heart, causing heart failure)
Once dogs progress to caval syndrome, the only treatment option is immediate surgery, and even then, your dog may still be at risk of death due to the damage sustained to their heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Your dog’s activity level will play a role in how quickly symptoms show up. Symptoms may be low in dogs that are less active, whereas active dogs place a heavier burden on their heart and lungs and will show symptoms sooner.
If your dog shows any signs of heartworm, visit a veterinarian immediately.
Keeping Safe with Heartworm Prevention for Dogs
Heartworm is a frightening disease to see in your best friend, but heartworm prevention for dogs can help keep your dog safe.
Remember, prevention is the best medicine for heartworm. If your dog stays healthy, you won’t need to worry about getting rid of parasites later.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to encourage treatment or diagnosis of any animal medical condition. For medical advice, contact your veterinarian.