Parasitic invasions are common in pets, particularly in dogs and are a matter of great concern for the owners. Various kinds of parasitic organs require different precautions and treatment interventions. For this reason, it is important for pet owners to know all about them so that they can identify and resolve the conditions in time. One of the common parasites that your dog may fall prey to is heartworm. As the name suggests, this worm affects the heart, lungs and blood vessels of the animal. It can be a foot long and spreads via infected mosquitoes. A mosquito bites and infected animal and spreads the worm’s larvae into the tissue of the other animal. Once they enter the body, the larvae migrate through the tissue of the animal and make way into its heart after around 70 days. They house themselves therein and gradually grow into full-sized worms to create a series of complications.
Symptoms of Heartworm Infection
Typically, heartworm infection does not present any symptoms during the initial stages. Gradually, as the larvae house themselves within the animal’s heart and grow into adults, they can clog the heart completely. This can be deadly for the dog and cause a number of complications. The following symptoms become visible when the condition gets aggravated with the passage of time:
- Heavy breathing
- A swollen belly
- Nose bleeds
- Coughing (sometimes coughing blood)
- Inability to exercise
Most of these symptoms are seen only after the worms fill the dog’s heart and block the blood flow. This can take up to six months when the dog’s health start deteriorating. The pet owner should be vigilant about symptoms such as tiredness and soft cough so that the disease can be detected and resolved in the early stages.
Diagnosis of Heartworm Infection
Heartworm infection is one of the most challenging conditions for the pet owners and veterinarians alike as it is quite impossible to detect in the initial stages. There is a gap of six months between the infection and appearance of the symptoms, making it hard to diagnose early. Considering that it is a common condition, any dog aged over seven months is considered to be at risk. Even minor symptoms are to be taken seriously and the vet may suggest diagnostic tests such as chest x-ray and ultrasound scan for the heart. Blood tests are also taken to establish the presence of heartworm.
Treatment of Heartworm
Heartworm is a complicated medical condition yet can be resolved with timely diagnosis and treatment. The treatment of heartworms is multi-faceted and you require the services of an expert vet to give you the right plan of action. Here are some aspects of the treatment plan for heartworm infection:
- If a dog already has a serious heart condition, it must be stabilized first so that it can withstand the treatment.
- Another issue is that these parasites carry bacteria which get released once the worms die off. Antibiotic treatment is needed to killing the worms.
- Since heartworm larvae are unaffected by drugs during their growth phase, the pet is to be given a preventive treatment in the first phase to ensure that the larvae die before they are mature.
- Once the two month phase is over, it is possible to address the infection with the right antibiotics. The vet will usually recommend a 4 week course to prevent damage of internal organs by the bacteria in the bloodstream.
- Steroid treatment is initiated to kill the adult worms. They have a strong anti-inflammatory action and provide protection against an allergic reaction caused by dying worms in the blood.
- In the final phase of the treatment, a drug treatment is given to kill the adult worms.
Despite the fact that treatment is possible, it is still better to take preventive action against the infestation as there are some side effects of the treatment. These include local soreness at the injection site, loss of appetite and nausea. A bigger risk is of the dead worms dislodging and blocking a major blood vessel, which can sometimes be fatal. Pet owners need to focus on prevention rather than cure. They should protect their dogs against heartworms as well as common parasites like fleas and ticks. Regular vet visits are a must and so is treatment with quality products. In a quote from Tammy Hollman from Pet-lock.com, she says that pet owners should be extremely watchful about the quality of products they use for resolving pest-related issues for their pets. It is easy to find such products as well as pet care tips at a reputed veterinary clinic as well as pet websites.