So you got your first fur baby, and you are now excited to have a dog to call your own and to take care of. You have already prepared all of the necessary accessories, food, vitamins, and other tools you need to properly take care of your first dog. But what you also have to consider is that you need to keep it as far away from any life-threatening disease or condition as early as possible. As a dog parent, it is your responsibility to keep it healthy and safe from what heartworms.
Heartworms are some of the more common causes of death in a lot of different dogs. As such, you have to be responsible enough as a dog parent to know more about heartworms so that you will be able to promptly prevent them from attacking your fur baby and cause severe conditions that may actually be fatal.
What are heartworms?
Heartworm is a type of parasite that is actually a variety of roundworms. This parasite is known to grow, mate, and reproduce all inside your dog. And while it is doing so, it will start to infect different parts of your dog’s internals such as its muscles, blood vessels, arteries, and of course, its heart. Heartworms vary in size and length. However, females are generally longer than males and can reach 12 inches in length compared to the males that are only as long as 9 inches. These parasites can live for as long as seven years inside your dog and can produce a lot of different problems and conditions while they are inside.
Where does your fur baby get heartworms?
Your dog can only initially get infected by heartworms from one source—mosquitoes. The only way for a dog to get infected by these parasites is through the bite of a mosquito that has been previously infected by heartworms. As such, mosquitoes are actually the intermediate host of heartworms and are responsible for starting off the infective stage in the life of heartworm. In the same way, mosquitoes can only get infected by heartworms when it feeds on a dog.
What happens here is that a mosquito gets infected by first-stage larvae coming from a dog as it feeds on it. The larvae will have to live in the mosquito for a period that can be as long as two weeks. At this point in time, the heartworm is in its infective stage. When the mosquito bites a dog, the infective-stage larvae will use the wound on the dog to enter its new host. Once it is already in the dog, the heartworm will continue to grow and develop until it is ready to infect and cause problems in your dog’s internal systems.
Heartworms cannot be transmitted from dog to dog or from another animal as they can only be transmitted from mosquitoes. And while heartworms can indeed multiply inside the dog after mating, the first-stage larvae need to be pass to a mosquito for them to enter the infective stage and for them to infect a new host later on when the mosquito once again feeds on a dog.
What happens if your dog is infected by heartworms?
Heartworms that have infected your dog can be very dangerous as they can cause a multitude of illnesses and conditions that can very well lead to your dog’s death if its internals begins to fail due to the infestation. That is because heartworms can infect your dog’s heart and cause significant damage to it. Other than that, these parasites can also damage the dog’s lungs, muscles, and arteries. As such, it is paramount that you keep your dog as free from heartworms as possible.
Here are the indications that your dog is suffering from heartworms:
- Persistent coughing
The type of persistent coughing you should be looking out for is a dry one. In the early stages of heartworm infestation, the dog will easily cough even after a small amount of movement or exercise. That is because the heartworms have already made their way to the dog’s lungs to cause some sort of blockage that will prevent it from being able to breathe properly.
In addition to the effects that heartworms have on the dog’s lungs, your fur baby should feel lethargic most of the time and will not even be willing to do simple tasks. Eating and walking may even be too much for it.
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
As the dog begins to feel even more lethargic, it will eventually lose the will to do something as simple as eating. It will begin to lose weight and will not even try to eat due to how lethargic and tired it is all the time.
- Breathing difficulties
When the heartworms begin to invade the lungs and induce coughing, your dog will start to feel difficulties in breathing. Fluid can also build up in the lungs.
- Protruding or bulging ribs
Because of the fluid that had started to build up in the dog’s lungs, and due to how skinny the dog has become, you will begin to see its ribs bulging or protruding. This is because the lungs are now bigger as a result of the fluid buildup.
- Enlarged liver
In the late stages of the heartworm infestation, your dog’s liver will also begin to enlarge as its other symptoms heighten and worsen.
There are not a lot of treatment options available for heartworms. And the worst part about the treatment is that it is very expensive. On top of that, there is no guarantee that the treatment will even work or allow your dog to recover from the damage that has already been done. As such, prevention should always be the better option for you if you when it comes to heartworms.
Nevertheless, treatment for heartworms is administered through three injections that are formulated to pinpoint and kill the heartworms in your dog’s system. But before that, the vet still needs your dog to undergo tests such as X-rays and blood work to determine how serious the heartworm infection has already become. After that, the injections will be administered, and the dosage depends on the severity of the infection. This can cost somewhere close $1,000, which is a pretty hefty price to pay. That is why you should always make sure that you prevent the onset of heartworms as these parasites can possibly kill your dog and your finances.
How to prevent heartworms
- Routine visits to the vet
Has your dog checked regularly by your vet? The doctor will scan and try to detect heartworms so that you will be able to know whether or not these parasites are already inside your dog’s system. Checkups may be done annually.
- Use preventive medicine
There are plenty of different preventive medicines in the market, and all of them help in making sure that your dog is as safe from mosquitoes as possible. Most of such medicines are made to ward off mosquitoes. This is very useful for those who are living in warm and humid environments as mosquitoes are more common in such regions. And when mosquitoes cannot get to your dog, your fur baby’s risk of getting infected is minimized.
- Try to keep the house free from mosquitoes
Those who are living in colder and dryer regions are less likely to have mosquitoes. But, even so, you should always try to keep your home safe from mosquitoes. First off, cover any open source of water to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs. After this, you may also try to keep your doors closed to prevent mosquitoes from entering your house. Finally, you can use mosquito repellents or killers to ward off mosquitoes.
- Spray an insecticide outdoor
Keeping the immediate outdoors free from mosquitoes is also a good way of making sure that your dog is as safe from them as possible. You can do so by regularly spraying insecticide to kill mosquitoes and their larvae. However, choose a type of insecticide that is actually safe for your dog and is as free from any chemicals that can be toxic for both you and your pet.