You hear about it in pets all the time, but what is Heartworm disease? Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease that is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease affects more than just dogs and cats but it also can harm other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and in rare instances, humans.
A dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms live inside the dog, mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone.
When finding out your pet has a heartworm, it can be a difficult time for you and may cause you a great deal of stress. The good news is that most dogs infected with heartworms can be successfully treated. The best course of action is to prevent heartworms in your pet, but if you do find heartworms in your pet make sure to follow a few simple steps to ensure they are healthy happy companions!
- Confirm the diagnosis. Once a dog tests positive on an antigen test, the diagnosis should be confirmed with a second, different test.
- Restrict exercise. Your dog’s normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis of a severe heartworm is confirmed because physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. The more severe the situation is, the less activity your dog should have.
- Administer treatment. Once your veterinarian has determined your dog is stable and ready for heartworm treatment, he or she will recommend a treatment protocol involving several steps. The American Heartworm Society has guidelines for developing this plan of treatment.
- Determine the severity of the disease. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease have a high success rate with treatment. More severe infections can also be successfully treated, but the possibility of complications is much greater.
- Test to prevent further issues. Around 6 months after treatment is completed, your veterinarian should perform a heartworm test to confirm that all heartworms are completely gone. To avoid the possibility of your dog contracting heartworm disease again, you will want to administer heartworm prevention year round for the rest of his or her life.
Making sure you keep your pets healthy and happy is very important to make sure they live a long and happy life with you! So make sure to follow these guidelines and keep them free from pain or discomfort and any long-term issues.