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Looking Out for Your Dog's Health: Heartworm Pills for Dogs

Heartworm Pills for Dogs

Dogs are often as much family members as children for many people, and it’s fair to say the way we become attached to them is not seen with any other type of pet. Seeing to it they live a long and healthy life becomes a priority because you’d like them to be providing companionship for you and your family for as many years as possible. Heartworm is one of the more common and serious risks to a dog’s health, but fortunately an effective heartworm treatment is not difficult to find if your dog becomes infected with them. It’s important to know that prevention of heartworm is the most effective treatment of all, however, and that putting your dog on a year-round heartworm prevention medication regimen isn’t expensive at all.

We’ll offer some medication suggestions here, but first let’s have a look at the symptoms of heartworm in dogs and some of the particulars that are helpful to know when considering what makes dogs get heartworms in the first place. We’ll then recommend some heartworm medication for dogs.

Heartworm Basics

Heartworm (dirofilaria immitis) is found all across North America, and is particularly prevalent in warm areas of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of America. Dogs acquire heartworm from a mosquito bite, and this is the only way they can become infected. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up baby ‘microflariae’ worms that then mature into larvae that have the ability to infect other animals that the same mosquito bites.

After a dog is bitten, it takes approximately 7 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. They then set up in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and start reproducing. They can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs, and result in heart failure, severe lung disease, and damage to other organs. All these conditions have the potential to be fatal for the dog.

The congregation of heartworms taking up residence in the animal are called worm ‘burdens’, and the average quantity in a burden is 15 worms. Some dogs, however, have been found to have upwards of 150 worms in the most severe cases. One piece of reassuring information is that dogs cannot pass heartworm on to other dogs, and it is impossible for humans to get heartworms from their pets. Heartworm can also affect cats, ferrets, foxes, wolves, coyotes and even sea lions, but heartworm treatment for the pets among those species will be very different.

Heartworm prevention is not difficult and very effective, and all the modern and safe pharmaceutical options are a long time removed from arsenic being used, even as recently as the middle part of the last century.  

Recommendations are to have your dog tested for heartworm once a year, and – even better – give him or her a heartworm treatment for prevention all year round.

Symptoms

There are common symptoms of heartworm in dogs. These include a developing cough, decreased appetite, weight loss, and less ability to participate in vigorous exercise. The dog will become ‘winded’ much sooner than they would before when exercising similarly. Severe heartworm disease can come with abnormal lung sounds, and loss of consciousness due to lack of blood supply to the brain. Other less common symptoms include:

  • Bulging chest
  • Increased allergic reaction sensitivity
  • Nosebleeds
  • Excessive sleeping

Prevention

Heartworm prevention is affordable – a year’s supply of heartworm medication for dogs shouldn’t cost much more than $100. Year-round prevention is recommended, and most common among these medications is Heartgard Plus. Note as well, however, that Heartgard Plus can also be used to treat existing heartworms if used over the course of two years. This is not recommended, but can be an alternative for owners who cannot afford the standard pharmaceutical courses of treatment.

Immunity

There is no commercially available vaccine to inoculate against heartworm disease in dogs and make them immune to it, but there has been some research into the possibility of one.

Treatment

Heartworm treatment usually starts with pre-treatment workup with x-rays, blood work, and testing to determine the extent to which the heartworms have developed. The test is an antigen test that detects proteins that are specific to heartworms. However, they cannot be detected any earlier than approximately 5 months after the dog is bitten by the infecting mosquito. A secondary test that detects the microfilariae in the bloodstream is similarly ineffective any time before 6 months of the initial mosquito bite.

Radiographs to detect inflammation and swelling and echocardiographs to determine overall heart health may be used as well. A heartworm medication for dogs will work by eliminating heartworms at the larval stage, before they develop into mature worms. Early detection and treatment is key, because within 50 to 60 days the larvae will molt into the adult stage and at this point preventative medicines are much less effective.

It is important to administer medication consistently and on schedule for best and most effective heartworm prevention results.

Common effective medications include:

6 months after the heartworm treatment is completed, your veterinarian should perform a follow-up heartworm test to confirm all of them have been killed. Once that has been confirmed, it is advisable to keep your dog on heartworm preventatives for the rest of its life as you are likely living in an environment that is conducive to heartworm infections in animals.

Related Tips for Heartworm Treatment

Dogs must be kept relatively inactive in the late stages of treatment and after it has concluded. This is because as the heartworms begin to die they break into pieces and these pieces can cause a blockage of the pulmonary vessels and cause a heart attack. Most veterinarians advise that you should prevent your dog from engaging in any type of strenuous physical activity for at least 3 months following treatment, and longer for older dogs. Of course, it is best to speak to your veterinarian for clarification on this.

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