If you love your pup, you'll want to avoid her contracting heartworm, a parasite spread by mosquitoes that could end her life. Yes, heartworm in dogs is serious, but it's also easily preventable.
Responsible dog owners need to take two important steps to prevent heartworm. First, have a veterinarian perform a yearly heartworm test. Second, give your dog a monthly heartworm treatment. "There are numerous monthly preventions," says Erin Bouchillon, LVT and department head for the Animal Studies Program at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina. "Many are chewable or flavored forms of the medication. There are also monthly topical treatments."
We all get busy, and it's possible you might skip a treatment. If that happems, don't panic. Just contact your veterinarian once you realize what happened. "If only one or two doses have been missed, it would most likely be best to start the medication immediately and retest your dog for heartworm in six months," says Bouchillon. But every pet reacts differently to medication, so always check with your veterinarian first.
There are no evident symptoms in the beginning stage of heartworm disease, except for perhaps a slight couch. The only way to detect heartworm in this first stage is through a blood test. As the disease progresses to the next stage, a dog will have a presistent cough and won't be as energetic as normal. Decreased appetite, low energy and a swollen belly mark a more advanced heartworm stage.
If your dog has heartworm, there are treatment options, depending on how advanced and severe the infection. But be prepared for a rough ride for your dog. "Treatment can be a long and expensive process," says Bouchillon. "The protocols have many steps and include hospital stays, different medications, tests and activity restrictions."
Heartworm can take quite a toll on your dog and may even kill him. That's why veterinarians are resolute in their admonitions about yearly testing and using heartworm prevention. Show your dog the love he deserves by doing your part to prevent heartworm.