Heartworm Disease

Patapsco Valley View

Volume 4

Spring 2012

Heartworm Disease Can Be

A Real Heartbreaker!

You happily bring your brand spankinghannah_s_dog.jpg

 new puppy in for his/her first puppy appointment and the doctor checks “Fluffy’s” stool (poop) for any intestinal worms or bacterial contaminants such as coccidia or giardia which are actually protozoa, i.e.; tiny little critters with bad attitudes that can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and an altogether sick pup. (NOTE: Some of these can be transmitted to other members of the family: dogs, cats, and people included. That’s why we like to check your pet’s stool when we first meet and again yearly just to keep on top of things.)

After the doctor has completed the exam she hands you a small package with a dose of heartworm preventative inside. “What’s this?“ you ask.

“It’s heartworm preventative!“ is the reply.

“But we’re testing his poop for worms already!“ you remark.

Completely different species….

Heartworm preventative is a medication that your dog takes regularly (once a month) to prevent the proliferation of tiny little heartworm larva called microfilaria. It’s very important to protect your pet from heartworm disease. Once infected with heartworm disease treatment is a long, drawn out, and delicate process.

Heartworm disease is transmitted by the mosquito, those tiny, annoying beasts that make some summer nights intolerable. Unfortunately, in this area, mosquitoes rarely die out completely, and it only takes a single mosquito to contaminate multiple dogs with heartworm larvae.

One mosquito lands upon a single infected dog for a blood meal and then, while feeding, the flying nemesis ingests contaminated blood. Then she heads off for the next unsuspecting dog and while feeding on him, she injects the microfilaria contaminated sample under your pet’s skin where the little critters make their way into your pet’s bloodstream.

Now here’s the good part. If you have been using heartworm preventative regularly, the minute those little wigglers reach your pet’s bloodstream they get blasted by Heartgard and Interceptor Special Forces and die a quick death.

The problem comes if your pet isn’t being protected by regular doses of Heartworm Preventative. Once that barrier of protection declines, your pet can be at the mercy of the proliferating larva, who attach to the heart muscle and grow until they reach lengths of several inches, and look remarkably like cooked spaghetti. Untreated, these creatures will continue to reproduce in the heart where they tend to bottleneck. This can be deadly!

The blockage cuts off normal blood flow from the heart through the lungs and into the other organs of the body. If the blockage is dense enough this squirming mass can cause your pet to have heart failure and die!

Treatment of heartworm disease normally starts with a blood test. This is a diagnostic test that we like to run every other year on pets who are using heartworm preventative consistently, and yearly on pets who are not quite so consistent.

Heartworm disease is insidious and it rarely shows symptoms until there is a large number of adult worms in your pet’s heart. One of the first things that some ‘parents’ notice with their furry children is a cough. Often this may be the only sign that something is just ‘not right’ with your pet.

If your dog is diagnosed positive for heartworm disease there are treatments available. These treatments are by no means simple, and they can be dangerous if your pet reacts badly to the drug used to combat the worms, or if the worms are so prolific that they block blood flow to the heart.

If everything goes well, your pet may recover, but always keep in mind that his/her heart may have been damaged by this experience and there may be lasting medical effects.

The most important this is, if you keep your dog on a good heartworm preventative consistently, you won’t have to experience the worry, cost, and pain of heartworm treatment. One little dose a month does the trick, keeps your pet from contracting heartworm disease, and from sharing it with other dogs who may not have the caring, consistent owner that your pet has. A couple of dollars a month is all it takes to give you piece of mind that even when that danged December mosquito sneaks in your house, it’s not going to leave anything other than an itchy bump.