Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Little Heartworm Summary

It's been a while so why are we doing this again?

1. We are blogging to share important and hopefully easy to use information about heartworm disease and prevention so that everyone can have at least a basic (which is what we have) understanding of heartworm when you talk to your veterinarian.

2. We are blogging to show what heartworm treatment is like for a dog, and are following the story of Mila, a rescue dog in a foster home.

What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by a type of roundworm that grows in the lungs and the heart of infected animals. So, serious enough to be able to kill an animal. It is also worth noting that these worms can grow up to 12 inches long. Take a minute to count that out and picture it inside your pet.

Oh why make you do all of that - here is a picture from DVM360, of a female adult heartworm, and a male adult heartworm. The male is smaller and has a spiral tail.
Those aren't necklaces...

YIKES, I don't want my dog to get heartworm disease, what can I do?
1. The American Heartworm Society recommends that you give medicines such as Interceptor, all year round to keep your pet from getting heartworm disease. These meds will kill off any baby worms that your pet gets infected with.

2. They also recommend yearly testing to make sure that the meds have been working.

3. Making your yard less mosquito friendly by doing things like removing standing water, and more, can help too. 

Talk to your veterinarian, especially if your pet has not been on a monthly medicine. DO NOT buy medicines online and start giving them without a heartworm test at your vet office first! Re-check your dog in six months to make sure that they do not have heartworm if they were not on medicines for a long period of time.

Where is Heartworm?
Everywhere.

How Do Pets Get Infected?
Mosquitoes! This is almost like a health class, when they separate the girls and the boys for a special talk.

So you have a dog in your neighborhood that is heartworm positive. Let's call him Larry. No one knows Larry is heartworm positive, but he is. Like a lot of things, Larry won't show he's sick until he's REALLY sick - unless he gets tested. But he hasn't been tested and a mosquito (again, played as a villain by Christoph Waltz) bites Larry. That mosquito gets some of the baby heartworms in his blood draw.

The mosquito goes home, tells everyone about the great meal, and the baby heartworms become infective inside the mosquito while it hangs out trying not to get swatted or slapped. The mosquito sees Larry's friend in the next yard over; we'll call her Verna. Remembering that great meal, the mosquito bites Verna, transmitting the disease to her.

Verna is lucky. Her owner gives her a monthly dose of a heartworm medicine. So that kills off the baby heartworms. No adults should form, but that's why you test yearly, just to be sure.

Their mutual friend Mila is not so lucky. When the mosquito bites, Mila is not on the monthly medicine, so she gets infected. The baby worms go through her body until they get to her heart. Those heartworms become adults, and release more baby worms, making Mila her own heartworm machine until treatment. End of health class.

We hope that Larry is okay. We don't know who he was, we just know that a dog near Mila has heartworm disease.

How Do You Know Your Pet Has Heartworm/What Stage?
The only way to know for sure is a heartworm test at your vet office. Some of the staging information shows the symptoms as well. But in the beginning there may be no signs.

If your dog is heartworm positive, you will then need to figure out what stage heartworm disease they are in. X-rays, bloodwork, medical exam, urinalysis, echo, a blood smear to look at the number of baby worms are things that can be used to stage the infection.

What Else Do You Do Before Treatment?
Giving one month of doxycycline helps to kill off the wolbacchia. Wolbacchia seem to be protective of the heartworms, and we don't want that. 

The Heartworm Society and Mar Vista Vet give more information. Links for this and more are in previous posts. When we are done we will do a blog post of links. 

Next time: Mila's treatment begins

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