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Deadly Heartworm Disease

One of the most common, dangerous and yet easily prevented diseases that our beloved pets can catch is heartworm disease.  Learn about heartworm disease, the symptoms and preventative treatments here; to keep your pets healthy and active throughout the New Year.

Heartworm disease
Heartworms are parasitic worms that live in the heart and nearby blood vessels.  The worms travel through the bloodstream, completing their journey to the vessels of the lung and heart chamber approximately six months after initial infection.  Heartworms, which can grow up to 30cm in length, congregate around and clog your pet’s blood vessels, causing decreased blood flow to the heart and other major organs.  Overtime, and if not treated, damage to your pet’s lungs and heart can be severe.  It can include:

  • Damage to the lining of the artery leading from the heart to the lungs (pulmonary artery)
  • Clogging of the pulmonary artery
  • Heart valve malfunction
  • Heart enlargement and failure; causing death

How do dogs get heartworm?
Dogs can’t contract heartworm directly from one another.  Heartworm larvae are transmitted by infected mosquitoes that bite the dog and deposit heartworm larvae on the dog's skin. The larvae migrate through the tissue and into the bloodstream of the dog where they continue developing. By the time signs of heartworm disease appear, the disease can already be in its advanced stages.

Symptoms of heartworm disease
Often very subtle and tricky to detect, the initial symptoms of heartworm disease can be very mild.  Early in the diseases progression, there may not be any symptoms at all, which is part of what makes heartworms such a difficult disease to diagnose.  As heartworm disease progresses from stage one through to stage four, treatment methods become increasingly more severe and invasive.

Stage 1:
No symptoms at all, dogs will appear generally happy and healthy.
Stage 2Moderate symptoms like a lingering cough or possible fatigue after exercise.
Stage 3:Coughing increases, dogs will be fatigued after exercise and maybe even reluctant to exercise, trouble with breathing.
Stage 4:Visible symptoms including severe coughing, tired after exercise, increased breathing difficulties.  Testing at this stage may also reveal an enlarged liver, heart noises and abnormal sounds emitted from the lungs.

The great news is that this detrimental disease can be easily prevented and there is a variety of treatment options available. Most preventative treatments are used monthly; such as:

  • Chews can be fed to your dog, once a month, year round. One highly effective option is Heartgard Plus.
  • Tablets can also be taken monthly; Proheart, Valuheart and NuHeart
  • Alternatively, external pipettes produced by Revolution or Advocate, can be applied to the skin once a month.
  • More frequent preventative treatments like Dimmitrol tablets can be administered daily.