Every year nearly 300,000 dogs are diagnosed with heartworms in the U.S. Fortunately for those of us who own dogs, there are many heartworm products on the market that can help prevent these unpleasant critters from attacking your dog.
But first, a few words about heartworms, and how they can hurt your dog. Heartworm disease is caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels associated with these major organs, the American Heartworm Society reports. Potentially fatal, these slithery parasites shouldn’t be taken lightly. They can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, and can also severely damage other organs. And, they can also infect cats and ferrets, as well as other mammals including sea lions, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and very rarely — people. Foxes and coyotes are considered carriers of the disease because they often live near urban areas. Heartworm products can save your dog’s life.
Related: Does AAFCO Keep Your Pets Safe?
Mosquitoes play a huge role in spreading heartworms
Young heartworms, also called microfilaria, swim through the bloodstream and when an adult female mosquito bites an infected animal, she sucks the immature heartworms up. Once they are in a dog’s bloodstream, the young spend 10 to 15 days maturing into “infective stage” larvae, and they wait for another mosquito to bite the dog and suck them up so they can spread to another animal. Once they are inside their new host, the larvae take about another six months to mature into adult heartworms, where they can live inside dogs for five to seven years. In cats, they can live as long as two to three years.
But here’s even worse news:
Because these worms are so long-lived, each mosquito season means your pet can be infected with even more of these worms.
The videos below offer useful information for preventing and treating heartworm infection with heartworm products.
Heartworm Prevention for dogs
Perhaps you’ve heard the old cliche that “the best offense is a good defense.” Well, in this case, it’s definitely true. With your veterinarian’s help, you’ll find there are many heartworm products that can help keep your dog safe from infection, PetMD notes. Keep in mind that if your dog has previously been diagnosed with heartworms he’ll need life-long heartworm products as preventive medication because these critters can reinfect him. While heartworm preventives aren’t 100 percent effective, they’re pretty close. Especially if you give them as directed and don’t forget to give them to your pooch.
The best way to fight heartworms is to make sure your dog is tested for them every year and given heartworm products prescribed by your vet to prevent them.
Heartworm symptoms: What you should know
One of the troubling aspects of heartworm infection is that it often shows little if any symptoms. Especially if it’s in the early stages. But as the disease progresses, they begin cropping up and can include:
- Mild, persistent cough.
- Fatigue after exercise.
- Appetite loss.
- Weight loss.
If the disease is left untreated, a number of other symptoms show up — a swollen belly, brown urine, pale gums, and eventually, collapse, DiamondBackDrugs reports. In a case like this, it’s very likely the dog has developed caval syndrome, and the only way to save the dog’s life at this point is to surgically remove the heartworms.
Heartworm products for dogs
Ivermectin is one of the heartworm products that is commonly used for heartworm prevention. It works by attacking the central nervous system of the young heartworms, killing them and preventing them from causing serious harm. However, some dogs, like collies, Australian shepherds, Shetland sheepdogs, and German shepherds and other dog breeds can’t tolerate Ivermectin because it’s toxic for them, and they should be supervised strictly by a vet if they are on Ivermectin.
Immiticide is that effectively kills heartworms, but it should not be given to dogs that have severe heartworm disease — especially if they have caval syndrome.
A surprising note about heartworm prevention for dogs
Heartworm medicine doesn’t stop the infection from happening. If an infected mosquito bites your dog, he may still become infected with the larvae. Instead, modern heartworm medication works to kill off larval worms that have worked their way into your dog’s body over the past month. Those heartworms will die before maturing into adults. However, preventative medications won’t kill the adults already inside your dog.
Some heartworm products are prescribed monthly, while others (used in conjunction with moxidectin, which is in injection form), last as long as six months. There are many different types of heartworm medications to choose from, ranging from topical medications to chewable pill forms, and most are available to both dogs and cats.
Monthly medications are a reset button for your dog’s circulatory system
They don’t stay in his bloodstream for a whole month. Instead, they kill the larvae that have crashed the party over the last 30 days, clearing them out. The only reason the medication is needed monthly is that it takes the young worms a little more than a month to become large enough to affect your dog’s body tissues.
Your vet must prescribe heartworm medication
The reason for this is that the veterinarian wants to make sure your dog isn’t suffering an active heartworm infection before giving him the medication. This is because dogs with active heartworms can suffer a severe, life-threatening reaction to the dying worms if they are given the medications. And if you try to purchase the medication without a prescription, you won’t know if the infection is active.
As this video by Dr. Andy Roark shows, there are several reasons why your dog should be tested yearly for heartworms.
Fortunately for our pooches (and us) there are several effective heartworm products available online, including:
Only Natural Pet HW Protect Herbal Formula
HW Protect works as a preventative medication during mosquito season to control heartworms by removing the larvae from your dog’s bloodstream. This herbal remedy also discourages mosquitoes from biting and is manufactured in a USDA-approved facility.
Tri-Heart Chewable Plus tablets
Containing the medications Ivermectin and Pyrantel are effective in preventing heartworms and other parasites. They can be given to dogs and puppies older than six weeks. They are available in 6-month or 12-month supplies depending on how much your dog weighs.
Heartgard Plus Chewables
These Heartgard Plus Chewables are made with real beef, so getting your dog to take them should be simple. Approved by the FDA and the EPA, they are effective for killing heartworms, hookworms, roundworms and other parasites.
These products are just a smattering of what’s available online — including at Amazon, PetCareRx, and many other places.
How veterinarians diagnose heartworm disease in dogs
If your vet suspects your dog is infected he’ll likely conduct three blood tests:
- A heartworm antigen test. This test looks for proteins excreted by sexually mature female heartworms.
- A filter test, which looks for the presence of larvae in your dog’s blood.
- A heartworm antibody test, which looks for heartworm antibodies in your dog’s blood.
What If Your Dog Is Diagnosed With Heartworms?
Okay, so you’ve heard the bad news, but the good news here is that most dogs can be successfully treated. The key thing here is to keep your dog in stable shape if he’s showing signs of the illness. Now is the time to kill the adult and juvenile worms while keeping side effects from the treatment at a minimum.
The testing process, take a deep breath – you’ve got this
If your dog’s antigen test is positive, chances are your vet will want to confirm the diagnosis with a different test. The reason for this is that the regimen for treating heartworm disease is costly and complex, so your vet will want to make sure that it’s necessary.
In the worst cases, your dog may need diuretics and antibiotics, DiamondBackDrugs reports. If the worms have done severe damage, your dog may need to be on heart medications for the rest of his life.
Rest for your dog is of the utmost importance
You’ll need to restrict his exercise and keep him from barking after diagnosis and for the next few months. Why is this? When heartworms die, they break into several pieces that can block pulmonary vessels. And when that happens, it usually results in death. Barking and exercise definitely increase the risk of pulmonary blockages, and that’s why barking and exercise are dangerous.
When your vet has determined your dog is resting, he’ll recommend a treatment protocol. Melasormine hydrochloride is another drug the vet may prescribe, PetMD notes. The drug is usually administered via injections during a 24-hour period. In some cases, it’s separated into a couple of treatments given one month apart. Your vet will likely want to hospitalize your dog during and after the treatment to watch for signs of shock or any other reactions which may require treatment.
After your dog receives the medication
It will take two to four weeks for the adult heartworms to be eradicated. At this point, monthly heartworm products for dogs are crucial, because that’s what will kill the young heartworms, which will be absorbed by your dog’s body. And this is exactly the time that you need to keep your pooch calm, with no running or jumping.
You’ll also need to watch your dog for these signs: Vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. It’s important that your vet checks him for any abnormal symptoms.
Tips to help your dog recover from heartworm infection
After your dog’s first treatment, it’s likely he’ll be sleepy and won’t have a lot of energy for the next few days, LoveToKnow reports. This, of course, works in your favor since he has to avoid activity for a while. Keep in mind that the area around the injection will be sore, so avoid petting him there.
After a while, he’ll feel more energetic but you’ll still need to confine him over the next month. Put your dog on a leash if he needs to go outside and once he’s done, bring him in. If he’s becoming too energetic, confine him to a crate or a small area of the house.
After a month has passed you can encourage him to build up his strength, but this needs to be done with your vet’s supervision. It’s essential that you monitor your dog’s health. Keep an eye on his behavior to see if his energy keeps increasing. Check his gums. They should be pink and not white or red. If they are, call your vet.
Contact your vet immediately if:
- Your dog is having trouble breathing, or if he’s coughing.
- If he’s running a fever or acting like he’s ill.
The Heart of the Matter
Heartworm products may be the most important thing you can do for your dog. If you do this as recommended by your dog’s vet you can save him and yourself a lot of trouble and heartbreak. It’s also important to remember that if your dog becomes sick, there are a wealth of heartworm products that can help him become healthy again. So that your lovable best friend can be around for many years to come.
Featured Image: CC by 0, by Jannbarkmann, via Pixabay