Pesky Spring & Summer Pests

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A common nuisance of summer, mosquitoes have the potential to spread disease as well as causing itching. West Nile Virus, common in humans, is the most well-known mosquito-borne disease, and it rarely affects dogs. One disease that is seen in canines and transmitted by mosquitoes is heartworm.

Heartworm is a severe, potentially fatal, disease that is caused by parasitic roundworms. Those worms infect the heart and the arteries of the lungs of multiple mammal species, including dogs. Though heartworms can infect more than 30 species of mammals, including cats, foxes, and ferrets, canines are considered their ultimate hosts.

When a mosquito infected with heartworms bites a dog, the parasite is spread to the dog. The heartworms enter the dog’s skin, enter the blood vessels, and then are carried to the arteries of the lung. Adult heartworms can live between 5 and 7 years in a dog, where the parasites prefer to live in the pulmonary vessels. Because of this, a heartworm infection can cause serious damage to a dog’s heart and lungs.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Dogs in the early stages of a heartworm infection can show no symptoms at all. However, as the infection progresses and more worms mature, your dog may begin to show symptoms including:

    • Cough
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Abnormal lung sounds
    • Liver enlargement
    • Temporary loss of consciousness

Giving your veterinarian a complete medical history for your dog, as well as a full accounting of where your dog has been, his or her lifestyle, and symptoms will be helpful when screening for heartworm disease. Your vet will conduct a physical examination of your pet and may recommend diagnostic tests.

Recommended tests may include:

    • Blood tests, which check for antigens released by adult female worms
    • Complete blood count
    • Chemistry panel, with electrolytes
    • Urinalysis
    • X-rays
    • Ultrasound

Treatment

Many dogs will respond well to heartworm treatment, which kills the adult heartworms. The success of heartworm treatment depends upon the health of the dog and the severity of the infection. Typical heartworm treatment begins with a round of steroids, followed by heartworm preventatives and antibiotics. Once the antibiotics and preventative medications are finished, your dog will receive a series of drug injections to kill the adult heartworms. Treatment usually lasts about 60 days.

Prevention

Heartworm is one of the most preventable diseases that can be contracted by dogs. Most preventative medications come in monthly doses, usually as a chewable tablet or topical medication. Dogs, especially those spending lots of time outdoors, should be tested annually for heartworms.

Heartworm is one of the most serious diseases your dog can contract, but it is very preventable. If you suspect your dog has contracted or may be at risk for heartworm, contact Falls Road Veterinary Hospital to discuss your options. It is our goal to keep your pets safe, healthy, and happy!

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