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The Basics of Heartworm

It’s prime time for heartworms, some of the most dangerous pests out there for our animal friends. Heartworm most commonly affects dogs, although they can infest cats as well. Read on as your Farmers Branch, TX veterinarian tells you more about heartworms, including how to keep your canine companion safe.

How Do Dogs Contract Heartworm?

Mosquitoes pick up an immature form of the heartworm, known as microfilariae, when they bite an animal already infested with heartworms. Inside the mosquito, the microfilariae develop into heartworm larvae. Those larvae are transmitted to your dog when the mosquito bites your pet. Then, the heartworm larvae mature into adult worms inside your dog and begin migrating through bodily tissue toward the heart.

What are the Signs of Heartworm?

Some adult dogs might not show signs of heartworm infestation for some time after initial infestation; in fact, signs might not show up for six months or more. This is one of the reasons why heartworm is so dangerous. The signs of heartworm include lethargy, weight loss, persistent coughing, loss of appetite, breathing issues, and—if treatment isn’t administered promptly—heart failure and even death.

How is it Treated?

First, a sample of your dog’s blood must be taken to determine whether or not there are heartworms present in your dog’s system. If the test is positive, confirming the presence of heartworms, a treatment regimen will be started in short order. Medications like ivermectin or melarsomine are usually prescribed to kill off both the adult worms and microfilariae in your dog’s body. Treatment comes with risks, and it can take a long time—your dog will need to be closely monitored throughout the treatment process and kept at a low activity level so that the heart is not overworked.

How Can Heartworm Be Prevented?

Obviously, preventing heartworm is easier and safer than treating it. Preventative medications kill off the microfilariae in your dog’s body before they have a chance to develop into adult worms; usually, it’s recommended that your dog stay on a year-round preventative for constant protection. Heartworm preventatives may come in chewable pill or tablet form, topical gels or ointments applied to your dog’s skin, or be injected with a syringe at the vet’s office. Talk to your veterinarian to find out which method works best for your dog.

Need to set up an appointment for Fido? Call your Farmers Branch, TX animal hospital!

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