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Heartworm Infection and Treatment in Dogs

Heartworm Infection and Treatment in Dogs

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Published by dmmcmah
Heartworm is easily prevented, but what can you expect if your dog actually gets heartworm? In this short article I explore what heartworm is, how a dog gets heartworm, how it might be prevented and what happens if your dog comes down with it.
Heartworm is easily prevented, but what can you expect if your dog actually gets heartworm? In this short article I explore what heartworm is, how a dog gets heartworm, how it might be prevented and what happens if your dog comes down with it.

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Published by: dmmcmah on Mar 14, 2009
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01/30/2013

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Heartworm in Dogs
Tony, a heartworm infection survivor.
In a Nutshell
Heartwormis a parastic worm that lives in the arteries and heart of your dog.Each year in the United States some 250,000 dogs get heartworm. Heartworm is adevastating disease that can kill your dog, and the treatment, while usually successful, isa grueling experience that involves keeping your dog locked up for 6 weeks or more.
 
The sad fact about these statistics is that heartworm is preventable. So what isheartworm, how do dogs get it and how is it treated?
Heartworm Facts
Heartworm is caused by a parasite that scientists have given the obscure name
 Dirofilaria immitis
that is found pretty much in the entire United States. This is a wormthat lives primarily in the right side of the heart, giving the disease its name. Whileheartworm infects primarily
 
dogs, it is also found in cats, wolves, coyotes, and foxes.There have even been a few documented cases of infections in humans. But don't worryif your dog has heartworm disease-its not directly transmissible from your dog toanother dog or to a human. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes. So, anywhere youfind mosquitoes there is a risk of heartworm disease. As we will see shortly, thedevelopment of the heartworm is temperature sensitive so in colder locales heartwormtransmission is seasonal.Heartwormstarts with a bite from an infected mosquito. The bite of the mosquito injectsseveral heartworm larvae into the bloodstream of the dog, and they begin a process of maturation. These immature worms are called microfilariae, but we will refer to them asteenagers (easier to grasp). Over a period that lasts about 4-6 months, the heartwormlarvae develop into small adult worms which can live in a dog for a period of up to 7years.Once they reach adult form, the heartworms move into a vein and head straight for theheart. There they become able to reproduce, getting ready for the next stage in theheartworm life cycle-you guessed it-this stage is having babies. A female heartworm cangive birth to 5,000 young per day which circulate in the bloodstream of an infected dog.They can do so for up to 3 years! And what are they waiting for? You've probably
 
figured this out-they're waiting for another mosquito to come along and bite the dog. The mosquito takes up some of the baby worms when it bites an infecteddog, and becomes ready to transmit the infection to a new dog.
Climate Matters
It turns out that a warm climate is vital for the development of the baby heartworms. Toinfect a new dog, they have to become teen-agers. This is a process that requires thetemperature to stay balmy-if it dips below 57 degrees F for just a couple of hours itwon't happen. This process also takes several days. As a result heartworm infection isnot found in Alaska and parts of Canada, and is seasonal in many of the lower 48 states.But during the summertime when temperatures routinely stay above 57 degrees even atnight, you need to be on alert for heartworm. The daytime temperature has to begenerally 80 degrees or above for around two weeks for the babies to transform intoteenage heartworms (this can happen more rapidly if the climate is warmer).
Heartworm Disease and Symptoms
Unfortunately, in most cases heartworm disease doesn't exhibit too many symptoms. Itdepends on the load of adult worms that the dog has. If the number of adult wormsinfecting the dog is low, then the worms tend to live in the pulmonary arteries (arteriesin the lung) and in the right side of the heart. A large number of worms, as you mightimagine, can cause some serious health problems based on where they are living. Earlysigns of heartworm disease include a soft cough and a dog that tires easily after exercise.You can see how these symptoms might be overlooked in a lot of dogs, in fact theymight be missed entirely in a sedentary dog. Worse than this most dogs don't show anysymptoms at all.

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