When it comes to your dog’s health, you want to know what’s going on and how to prevent the worst-case scenarios. As a rescue advocate and shelter volunteer, I get a lot of questions about heartworm. While heartworms are most harmful in puppies, dogs of all ages could be at risk. Dogs with an unknown treatment history — such as those from a shelter or backyard breeder — need even more attentive observation and care.
Heartworms are a serious danger to your dog’s health. If they’re left untreated, they can cause cardiac congestion, pulmonary bleeding and death. If your dog contracts heartworms, it could experience symptoms such as tiredness, coughing, and lack of interest in its surroundings. Prevention is especially critical because the symptoms can seem too mild to warrant a vet’s care, so an active heartworm infestation may not be caught until it’s too late.
When should I give my dog heartworm prevention treatment?
Let’s reiterate here — prevention is key to protecting your dog’s health. Many responsible pet owners give their dog heartworm prevention medication on a regular basis. At very least, dogs must be treated throughout puppyhood when they are most vulnerable. Discuss ongoing treatment with your vet. Depending on where you live and the type of conditions in which your dog lives, your vet may recommend heartworm prevention with every regular checkup.
What are the different prevention methods?
There are several common methods of heartworm prevention that your vet may suggest, and a number of brands that produce them. What it really boils down to, though, are oral, injectable or topical treatments. Oral methods are fairly convenient to use; it’s just a pill your dog needs to take. Topical treatments have to be applied more frequently, but generally have comparable efficacy levels. Not all veterinarians offer injections for prevention; it’s most often used to treat existing heartworm.
Make sure to discuss all available options before you make a choice, allowing you to make an informed decision for your dog’s health. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each method, and do your own research as well as discuss the decision with your vet.
What should I do if my dog is already infected?
If you suspect your dog might have heartworm, it is important to get a confirmed diagnosis as soon as possible. Early detection is critical to effective treatment and your dog’s ability to survive the infestation. Note that while rescued animals usually have thorough veterinary exams before they’re adopted out, they should always be re-checked when they get to their new home — it’s always possible that they missed something.
Mosquitoes spread heartworms, so be sure to have your dog thoroughly examined after mosquito season in your area. Making sure that your vet checks for signs of heartworm at routine checkups will also help reduce the risk of damage from contracting these killer parasites.
If you think your dog may have contracted heartworms, don’t hesitate to get it tested. After a positive test, a complete examination determines the current condition of the dog’s heart. The dog will then receive two different rounds of treatment. One round will eliminate eggs and larvae, while the next round will kill adult heartworms. Your dog’s overall health may suffer from these treatments, but this is currently the only way to kill the parasites.
Why is heartworm prevention so important?
Virtually any dog can contract heartworms, regardless of age, environment, or overall health. This condition can cause serious damage to your dog’s heart, and easily leads to death. One of the biggest risks of heartworm treatment is the balancing act — kill the parasites too quickly, and the overabundance of dead larvae in the bloodstream can cause a dog to go into shock. Too slow, and the parasites have a chance to multiply and potentially cause irreparable damage to the heart.
Always test for heartworms when you bring an untested pet, or one with an unknown health history, into your home. When it comes to heartworms, prevention is the most important thing you can do for your pet — even when it doesn’t kill, heartworm infestations can leave a dog with a weak heart that may shorten its life. Remember, your dog depends on you for its care, so make sure you’re doing what’s necessary for heartworm prevention and for otherwise safeguarding the dog’s health.