Most Common Canine Illnesses – Heartworm
Heartworm is a canine illnesses American dog owners are first warned about. And truly, once you see a photo of a heartworm that has been surgically removed from a dog, you can say good-bye to sleep for the next few days at the very least. It is a condition that can lead to serious problems and even death and every dog owner should know as much about it as possible.
Heartworm is a common name for a parasitic roundworm with the Latin name Dirofilaria immitis. It most commonly finds a host in dogs, although some other species of animal can be infected, including cats, wolves, foxes, coyotes, ferrets and sea lions. In some extremely rare cases and under very curious circumstances, the heartworm can find its way into the human body as well.
Explaining the entire life cycle of the heartworm would be a long and boring process which would not provide you with much information you can actually do something with. Instead, we will simply let you know that heartworm is carried by mosquitoes who carry larvae and transmit them into healthy dogs. The larvae mature, infesting the muscles and the blood vessels. Once larvae reach adulthood, they infest the heart and the pulmonary artery.
Perhaps the worst thing about heartworm infections is that the dog will show no symptoms during the early stages of infection. In fact, even when adult worms (who can grow up to be 11 inches, female ones) are already in the heart, some dogs still do not show symptoms. Without treatment, the worms will increase in number and cause symptoms such as short breath, coughing, weight loss, fainting, coughing up blood and, ultimately, congestive heart failure, which leads to death.
The good news is that heartworm infections can be treated with drugs such as Immiticide. The treatment is long and it needs to be completed fully in order to ensure that all of the worms have been killed and that the infection will not exacerbate once the treatment is finished. In some cases, surgery is necessary, and surgeons will remove adult worms by hand.
In addition to treatment , prevention of heartworm is possible and in many parts of the US necessary, at least if you know what is good for your dog. A number of drugs are used prophylactically such as ivermectin (Heartgard, Iverhart), milbemyxin (Sentinel and Interceptor Flavor Tabs) and moxidectin (ProHEart). When administered properly, these drugs will offer 99 percent protection against heartworm infestation in the future.
We would be remiss to point out another important fact. Namely, heartworm used to be a condition that almost exclusively affected dogs in southern U.S. These days, however, dogs from all over the country (and many parts of the world) have started contracting heartworm and if you are a dog owner, you should definitely inquire about using prophylaxis to protect your dog from this serious illness.