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Heartworm — What it Is & Why Prevention is Essential

Heartworm disease is a serious, often fatal condition in dogs that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and more. Preventing heartworm disease is both easier on your pet, and on your wallet than treating the disease after your dog gets ill. Our Ambler vets explain why.

Heartworm Disease in Ambler

Heartworm disease, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito, is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.

Your dog can become a 'definitive host' for this parasite, meaning that while living inside your pet the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms make their home in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet.

Signs of Heartworm in Dogs

Sadly, in dogs, the signs of heartworm disease don’t typically appear until the disease has progressed to more advanced stages. Once symptoms do become evident they include fatigue, swollen abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing, and weight loss.

Diagnosing Heartworm 

Blood tests can be done at your vet's office to detect heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released into the animal's bloodstream. These antigens first become detectible between 5-7 months after your pooch has been infected.

Treatment for Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Heartworm disease is a very difficult and expensive disease to treat, meaning that for most pets the disease is fatal. Death can occur as a direct result of the condition or through humane euthanization due to the issues surrounding treatment.

The treatment for heartworm in dogs can cause serious health complications and be toxic. It becomes an expensive condition to treat because multiple visits to the vet will be required for checkups, bloodwork, X-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.

If you choose to treat your dog for heartworm your veterinarian can use melarsomine dihydrochloride—an arsenic-containing drug that kills adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is administered by an injection into the back muscles of the dog in order to kill the parasites.

Topical FDA approved solutions are also available to treat heartworm disease, and can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied directly to your pup's skin.

Heartworm Prevention

In the case of heartworm, it is easier on your dog, and your wallet, to keep your pup on heartworm preventive medications whenever mosquitos are active. For some areas that is a seasonal issue whereas in other parts of the country, preventives should be used year-round.

Keeping your dog on preventative medication is the best way to prevent heartworm disease from impacting your dog's health. Even if your pooch is already on preventive heartworm medication, it is recommended that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.

Heartworm prevention is safer, easier and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease! A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Safeguard your four-legged family member against deadly heartworm. Contact Spring House Animal Hospital to book an examination for your dog and to learn more about the best heartworm prevention for dogs in Ambler and surrounding areas.

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