What to Know About Heartworm
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a specific type of worm that invades your dog and takes up residency between the heart and the lungs. It can block vessels going to the lungs and invade the heart, over time, causing heart disease.
If your dog has heartworm, it may be found before your dog shows clinical signs by taking a heartworm test. If your dog starts to show signs, you might see: weight loss, coughing, labored breathing, lethargy, and more.
How does my dog get heartworm?
Mosquitoes are the carrier of heartworms, but it is usually transferred from a dog that already has heartworm disease. The mosquito bites the infected dog, picks up the microscopic larvae, and when it bites your dog it transfers those larvae into your dog.
This can happen while taking your dog to an area that is known to have heartworm, or from already infected dogs traveling here from areas with heartworm. The other forgotten host may be wild canines in your area (coyotes or foxes) that get heartworm and maintain a continual presence of the disease.
What can I do to protect my dog?
Yearly heartworm tests can determine if an adult worm is in your dog or not. Preventative treatment is easy. It only requires a monthly chewable like Heartgard. Most dogs love these chewables!
Heartgard works by killing any larvae that are in your dog over the past month. This is why monthly medication is required. Adult worms are not susceptible to the medication in Heartgard.
If my dog is diagnosed with heartworm, what then?
Unfortunately, heartworm disease is not as easy to treat as it is to prevent. Your dog would go through an intensive series of treatments that can be dangerous. Your dog would be required to stay very calm with no exercise while these treatments were given, and your dog would be watched closely by your veterinarian at the time of each treatment.
Why is this important in Nevada?
In the past, heartworm disease was something to note, but not something to worry about in Nevada. Over the past few years, the incidence of heartworm in northern Nevada has increased. Last year alone, approximately 5-6 cases were treated at local veterinary hospitals.
As we are seeing more cases of heartworm, don’t let your dog become the next one! Get in to see your veterinarian to get your dog’s annual heartworm test done and get them on monthly Heartgard.
What about cats?
Cats are less susceptible to heartworm. Screening for cats is harder as usually they are more resistant. However, if cats do have it, all they need is one worm to cause a problem. Clinical signs can either be subtle or dramatic. Testing takes a more specific test than dogs. Disease is usually found by exam and diagnostics such as radiographs. If you are concerned about your cat, get them tested and start them on prevention as well.
To get further information on heartworm disease for either your cat or your dog, please go to this website.