Heart-worm, known also as dirofilaria immitis, is a roundworm that travels from host to host through the blood and is transferred and spread by mosquitoes that bite dog after dog. The worm is a slim one that takes up residence in the heart of a dog and can live there for many years sometimes. It’s an invader and will multiply, complete its life cycle, and slowly kill the host if left untreated.
Common signs of heart-worm infection in dogs include the following:
- coughing (especially during play or exercise)
- hesitation to play
- weight loss
Heart-worm symptoms can go undetected for quite a while especially if your dog is not active or older. For an active dog, the visible signs of coughing, being overly exhausted after play, and coughing when not exercising can be indicators of an infection. If you believe your dog may have a heart-worm infection, you should get her tested as soon as possible.
If your dog is diagnosed with heart-worms, the treatment can take a few weeks to months to fully eradicate them. This is because adult heart-worms can take months to die. Dogs must rest for several months after treatment to prevent dead worms from entering the lungs.
Prevention is much easier and cheaper in the end. The first line of defense in preventing your dog from being infected is by keeping their immune system healthy and providing optimal nutrition, exercise, play, and minimizing stressful situations. The next line of defense is to reduce the environment where mosquitoes can breed such as standing water in an old flower pot or bowl left outside. Products like garlic barrier can also repel insects from hanging out in your yard. The final line of defense for when you and your dog go for hikes, walks, or to the local dog park is to give a monthly preventative pill that contain milbemycin oxime or topical treatments that have selamectin and/or moxidectin. There are also a number of holistic alternatives but you should discuss what is best for your dog with your vet.
Talking with you vet about heartworm preventatives, the city or town you live in, and what environmental risks you need to be aware of can help keep your best friend healthy and safe!