The most important thing you should know about heartworms in dogs is how easy they are to prevent , but how difficult, painful and expensive heartworms are to cure. This article will explain the life cycle of heartworms, how they start, spread and finally destroy a dog’s lungs. We will look at the symptoms a dog owner should look for if he suspect heartworm, and what steps a dog owner can take first to protect his dog, or in a worst case scenario-what steps to take to save a dog from dying of heartworms.
Where Are Heartworms Common?
Heartworms have no favorite breed or location. Though more common in warmer climates, heartworms in dogs have been documented all over the United States.
When Are Heartworms a Greater Likelihood?
Like humans, dogs too can be bitten by mosquitoes. And as with mosquito born Malaria which had once killed thousands of humans, Mosquito born heartworms disease is a real and present threat to dogs. Any time a dog is outside in a season when mosquitoes are present, he becomes at risk of contracting heartworms.
How Do Heartworms Start?
The life cycle of heartworms begins when a dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae. The heartworm larvae enter the dog’s system though the mosquito bite and make their way into the dog’s veins. This can happen in a matter of minutes.
How Long Before Heartworms Can Kill?
Once in a dog’s veins, heartworms will develop, grow and spread over a period of months. The dog will exhibit no symptoms of heartworms disease. In effect, the Heartworm infestation will remain invisible at this point. Then, once enough heartworms have developed in a dog’s blood stream, they will migrate to the arteries in his lungs. There they will continue to grow, even becoming a foot long. At this point, the heartworms will cause serious lung inflammation and ultimately lead to heart failure.
What Are the First Symptoms of Heartworms?
Unfortunately, symptoms of heartworms in dogs only manifest themselves after heartworms have spread to the vital arteries in the lungs. The resultant lung inflammation will bring on coughing or difficulty breathing, as well as energy loss or dizziness, which can cause a dog to develop a drunken walk before sinking to a restful position. These symptoms will be mild at first, and most dog owners will take little notice. However, if an owner suspects heartworms, a simple blood test can confirm whether a dog is infected.
Can Heartworm Prevention Cure an Infected dog?
If an owner suspects that his dog may be infected with heartworms, simply starting the dog on heartworm prevention medicine will not kill the already spreading heartworms in the dog’s blood system. Heartworm prevention pills will keep a dog from becoming infected with heartworms. But once a dog is infected, a different course of treatment is required to save his life. And only a vet can help with that.
How Can a Dog Be Cured of Heartworms?
If a heartworms test comes back positive, a vet will follow it with a lung radiograph, to see the condition of the dog’s lungs. Though it is impossible to measure how many heartworms have grown inside the dog, the destructive effects of heartworms can be seen. If changes appear in the lungs, this will indicate that the heartworms have already damaged the respiratory system and that the dog’s heart is likely to be overworking to compensate. Leaving a dog untreated at this point can lead to death and certainly pain.
What’s the Treatment for Curing Heartworms Disease?
The treatment for killing heartworms is slow and painful. Over a period of eight weeks the dog infected with heartworms will have to confined to a crate, to limit all activity. During this period, the vet will be administering a series of injections of an arsenic-based medication. The injections will be administered in several key spots, to slowly kill off the heartworms where they live. These injections can cause painful swelling. In addition, once heartworms are killed, they may cause irritation to the lungs or, worse, the dead and dying heartworms may cause a blockage in the blood vessels of the lungs, which can kill the dog. For this reason complete confinement and inactivity are essential in the first eight weeks.
Will the Dog be Cured of Heartworms After Eight Weeks?
After the eight weeks confinement the dog will still need to receive treatment periodically for up to 4 months. During this period the dog will be tested for heartworms to determine whether the infestation has been cured.
Most Heartworm prevention medications come in the form of a pill, to be administered once every 30 days. If an owner takes his dog off heartworm prevention during the cold winter months, it’s important not to wait more than three months before putting the dog back on heartworms medication. Though the cost of heartworms may seem expensive, the cost of curing heartworms disease is much higher and the healing process is slow and painful.
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