Dogs acquire heartworm infection through a mosquito bite. Mosquitoes readily pick up larval heartworms from infected dogs and carry them to new dogs. Some areas have severe heartworm problems while other areas have virtually none. In Texas, heartworm disease is very prevalent. The reason heartworm disease is not prevalent in other geographic regions is that in order for the parasite to establish its presence in an area, the following conditions must be met:
- Types of mosquitoes capable of carrying larval heartworms must be present.
- The weather must be warm enough to allow heartworm larval development within the mosquito.
- There must be infected dogs or coyotes in the area.
- There must be vulnerable host dogs in the area (dogs off prevention).
When these conditions come together, an area becomes endemic for heartworm disease.
An adult, Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a large worm – up to 14 inches long – that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected dog. Dogs acquire this infection through mosquito bites as mosquitoes transfer larval heartworms from infected dogs to new dogs.
Heartworms create several problems in a dogs body including:
- A chronic immune response to the foreign proteins (heartworm) which inhibits the immune system to fight against smaller invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
- The body of the worm causes blood flow to become turbulent and the dog has a tendency to form abnormal clots.
- If the dog has a large worm burden, the problem is multiplied. Some arteries actually get obstructed by the worms. This leaves areas of lung unable to receive circulation, which means these areas cannot participate in oxygen exchange.
- The real damage comes from worms that have died in place. The dead body of the heartworm breaks apart and is carried through the vasculature of the lung until it lodges somewhere and obstructs blood flow. This prevents appropriate oxygen exchange and breathing.
- Lung tissue receiving poor blood and oxygen supply ultimately turns into scarring. Scarring makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood. There is a point where the heart is not strong enough to pump blood through all the narrowed, stiff damaged vessels. Heart failure is a result.
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
- Shortness of breath/panting
- Easy tiring/intolerance of exercise
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen or chest
- Nose bleeds
- Sudden death
Not all of these things symptoms necessarily occur in the same dog, nor is there necessarily a progression. An infected dog may have no symptoms at all or may develop any/all of the signs on the list at any time.
Recommended heartworm preventatives include:
-Sentinel tablets. Sentinel is a monthly tablet as well. Sentinel needs to be administered with food and generally has to be hidden in cheese or some other yummy treat to get your pet to eat it. The major benefit of sentinel is that it also protects against flea populations. It contains a flea sterilizer to prevent adult fleas from having babies.
-ProHeart 6 injection. This injection helps protect your pet by taking out the need to administer a pill monthly. This takes the stress off of you (the pet owner). Our computer system will generate a reminder to remind you to bring Fido back in to Trophy Club Animal Hospital for his semi-annual proheart injection for protection against heartworm disease.
-Heartgard chewable tablets. Heartgard is a desirable meaty treat that prevents heartworm infection. This tablet must be chewed and given monthly for the prevention of heartworm disease.
-Revolution. Revolution is a topical flea and heartworm preventative. This medication is generally safe for dogs with food allergies that are not good candidates for proheart injections. This is also an ideal product to protect our felines from heartworm disease.
If your pet is not currently taking heartworm preventatives, please contact us at 682-237-4002 today to schedule a heartworm test and prescription for preventative.