Heartworms or Dirofilariasis in dogs is a fatal parasitic disease caused by a blood-borne parasite called Dirofilaria Emmit’s. Once infected, leads to the damage of lungs, arteries, and heart. Also, if left untreated, can lead to severe non-curable illness and can even result in death.
No matter at what age your pet is- small, adult or old, heartworm can infect him. This disease starts from the bite of an infected mosquito, which serves as an intermediate host to the parasite. This parasite further bites the pet, resulting in the drastic health problem for the dog. The mosquito usually bites where the coat of the pooch is thin.
It is quiet and subtle and is very tricky to detect. Even for a vet, it becomes complicated to detect the symptoms until the worm reaches its maturity state. This is a silent killer, which is mostly overlooked.
Effects of heartworm on your dog’s health
It’s hard to detect the symptoms; sometimes it may take years for the dog to show any signs of infection. It is rare for the dogs who are less than one year of age and is curable for the pets who are under the age of two to eight years.
For adult dogs: Adult heartworms clog heart and major blood vessels of a dog. These clogged blood vessels reduce the blood supply to other organs specifically to the lungs, kidney, and liver, resulting in malfunction.
The number of parasitic heartworms depends on the number of adult worms present, the length of the worm, its location and the extent of damage done to the organs.
Signs of heartworms in dogs
Soft or a dry cough
The dogs, at an initial stage, might exhibit no symptoms, or have a very mild cough. But as soon as the parasite starts moving to the lung and starts proliferating in it and its surrounding veins, the cough becomes more problematic. Although a mild cough is normal, it’s also the most noticeable symptom, which can lead to fainting and if not treated, it gets worse.
Fatigue or lethargy
If your dog seems inactive and seems more tired, or doesn’t want to go outside, or avoids physical activities, then he may be infected with this dangerous disease. You will see your dog sleeping more and even coughing gets worse.
When the infection starts spreading into the blood vessels, the cough will get worse and your dog may have trouble getting enough oxygen. Fluid will start coagulating around the blood vessels in lungs making it difficult for lungs to oxygenate the blood.
Even minor activities like eating will make your dog exhausted. And this will make them lose their appetite and it will start affecting your dog’s body weight. Further, if your pooch stops eating or has lost a massive amount of weight, it is likely that he is suffering from this disease and is at a fairly late stage.
Bulging of the chest
As your dog starts losing weight, the chest will simultaneously start bulging. This will result in building fluid and adult heartworm infection in the chest. It can even result in anorexia, in which ribs start protruding and chest starts to bulge.
Some dogs show allergic reaction or asthmatic symptoms, which might be due to heartworm parasites. Although this disease is common in cats, it is likely to be seen in dogs also.
Blood flow gets blocked when heartworms start spreading in the heart and bloodstream. This blocked blood flow can lead to shock or destruction of RBC’s (Red Blood Cells), and your pooch starts collapsing. Moreover, if the parasite moves to the brain, it can even cause lameness and seizure blindness.
Furthermore, if this disease is left untreated, it can become fatal and can result in grave repercussions.
Symptoms of heartworm
This drastic disease is defined in three different classes that vary in severity. Your dog’s stage of heartworm disease, as well as factors like its health and age, play a major role in determining how fatal it has become. Following are the more entrenched stages of the disease:
The first stage doesn’t show any symptoms, just a slight cough. This is an initial stage. Your dog will look happy and healthy at this time.
You will see moderate symptoms like cough and fatigue at this stage.
At this stage, the disease will start making a huge impact on your pet’s overall health. The dog will cough a lot and will face difficulty while breathing.
At the last stage, you’ll see visible symptoms that need to be cured. The treatment method becomes more comprehensive and invasive.
How can a dog be prevented from heartworm?
A positive diagnosis of this disease is very scary, but if caught at an initial stage, can become a successful operation. So as soon as you start treating your dog, restrict him to do any physical activity and by this, it means no walk, no playing and complete hospitality.
The vet will give antibiotics and stable treatment to help find infections released by the bacteria. These medicines will not only fight with heartworm but also help guard against parasites like hookworms, fleas, ticks, and roundworms.
What kind of canine heartworm test does your dog need?
The most common and popular test today is an antigen test, which detects micro pieces of parasitic skin in your dog’s bloodstream. It is one of the most precise and effective tests to detect the presence of adult heartworm. However, it becomes ineffective when used for detecting younger parasites that are less than 5 months old.
The other test is lateral flow, which can be easily done at your vet’s clinic. It only requires blood samples of the dog to be sent to the laboratories.
Additional tests may include urine test, X-ray or serologic test. X-rays or radiographs help in detecting enlargement, swelling or inflammation in the lungs, heart, and large artery. You can also opt for electrocardiogram test to measure abnormal heart rhythms and enlarged heart chambers.
Apart from diagnosing the disease, these tests are also helpful in determining the health status of internal organs of the dog.
When it comes to keeping your dog healthy and happy, canine treatment and proper diagnosis are very important. Although it is a very dreaded disease, with a very little effort, it is preventable.