Most dog owners show their love and affection for their furry friends by playing fetch, giving treats, and daily hugs and attention. But the most important way to show you care for your pet is by protecting them from fatal diseases such as heartworms.
Cause of Heartworms
Heartworms are large parasitic worms that live in the hearts of dogs, cats, horses, and other animal species. Over time, these unwelcome intruders attack the animal's veins, liver, lungs, heart, and other vital organs. The most common animals infected are dogs. The carrier culprits are mosquitos. Heartworm larvae are injected by the mosquito into the bloodstream of the dog and mature into adult worms that can live up to 7 years. One sting is all it takes from an infected mosquito and your beloved pup could be in serious danger. It is a common myth that heartworms only affect animals in specific states. The truth is that mosquitos have been reported in all 50 states, and where there are mosquitoes, there are heartworms. Because it is impossible to know if a mosquito is infected with the disease, it is of utmost importance to take preventative measures to protect your dog from this serious and potentially fatal disease.
Many families have more than one dog and often wonder if the heartworm disease can be spread from pet to pet. Luckily, the answer to this question is no. Heartworms are only transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Therefore, the only dog affected will be the one who suffered the infectious sting. With that being said, there should be no worries about your dogs sharing food or water bowls, toys, or play areas. There have also been very few human cases of heartworms reported. Humans are not the natural host for mosquitoes so the only real concern is for your pets.
Symptoms of Heartworms
There are some clear signs and symptoms of your dog having heartworms. Initially, a dog may show no apparent signs but, over time, the dog may develop a mild to severe cough as the worms begin to crowd the lungs and heart. They may also become worn out and winded more easily and engage in less physical activity than before. Usually playful and energetic dogs may begin to lay down instead of running to fetch or leap up stairs. The dog may also experience weight loss, lack of interest, or fever. A lack of appetite or jaundice may also be clear signs of the presence of heartworms. In the final stages of the disease, a dog may collapse or pass out from lack of blood to the brain. At this point, it may be nearly impossible to save the pet.
Prevention and Treatment
As a pet owner, you have two options when it comes to heartworms and your dog: prevention or treatment. Prevention, of course, should be the obvious choice and will save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. You may choose between a pill, topical ointment, or injection for your dog that will run under $100 per year depending on the dog's weight. There are various websites, pet stores, and veterinarians who carry popular brands of preventative medications such as Heartgard, Interceptor, Sentinel, and Trifexis. An investment in one of these products could mean saving the life of your pet. However, if a dog is infected due to lack of preventative care, the results may be devastating if not promptly treated. The treatment for heartworms will cost approximately $300 to $1000, which may include x-rays, blood work, tests, and injections. The treatment is a lengthy process which requires a dog to be contained for up to 6 weeks. It is not guaranteed that all dogs will survive heartworm treatment, but if caught early enough, treatment is usually successful.
According to researchers, only about 50% of dogs in the U.S. are on some sort of heartworm preventative medication. Dog owners should be reminded that not only are preventative measures significantly more affordable than treatment after the fact, but part of showing care and compassion for your pet is sparing them from potentially dangerous and/or fatal diseases. Preventative medications have been proven to be 99% effective and many of them also prevent other types of worm infections. Giving dogs regular preventative medications are a sure way to show your pet you care about their health, safety, and well-being.