Sunday, September 16, 2012

HAVING A HEART


 Recently, two very special HEARTWORM positive dogs left the Tehama County Animal Care Center.  Both were long-time residents, passed over on numerous occasions, not because they were not wonderful animals, but because they had heartworm.  The cure can be costly and challenging, factors most potential adopters do not want to deal with.  Without receiving therapy, heartworm positive dogs will die.  Fortunately, for these two, they will be receiving treatment and are expected to recover well.

Heartworm, a very dangerous disease, is an easily preventable condition in dogs (as well as cats) caused by a type of parasite transmitted by mosquitoes.  In the US, dogs that live in areas where mosquitoes thrive are at huge risk.  Simply put, the disease is a killer. 

The moment a heartworm-transmitting mosquito bites, tiny larvae are deposited into the bloodstream.  They move through the body harming vital organs until they reach the heart, where, when they mature, they can reach up to twelve inches in length.  Too many of them can cause heart failure resulting in death.  However, by giving a relatively inexpensive, monthly oral medication, heartworm in dogs is easily prevented.  One may wish to give the dog the chewable pill only during typical mosquito season.  However, because many of these medications also include a control for roundworms, whipworms, or tapeworms, it is best to give the preventative throughout the year. 

If a dog is infected, it cannot transmit the disease to either people or other pets.  Heartworm is only conveyed through the bite of an infected mosquito.

One of the first symptoms that the animal has heartworm is coughing.  Coughing up bloody mucous and chest pain follow.  Other symptoms are vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.  Some dogs may not have any symptoms until the infection is in its late stages. 

The best way to treat heartworms is, initially, to have x-rays and blood tests done to establish how serious the infection is.  After this, a series of injections of drugs called adulticides is administered to the dog.  The two adulticides used most commonly are derivatives of arsenic.  Depending on whether all the pre-treatment tests are done or just the treatment done, costs can range anywhere between a few hundred dollars to over a thousand.  However, if you use the common monthly preventative in a dog with the disease, after about two years you will kill most of the heartworms.  Unfortunately, while being treated the heartworms continue to cause permanent damage to the heart.  Nevertheless, if someone cannot afford the actual treatment, using the monthly preventative is an alternative.

It is also important to remember that during and after treatment for several months the dog must remain quiet.  After the worms begin to die, they break into pieces that may cause blockage of vital blood vessels, which could also result in death.  Keeping the dog quiet allows his/her body time to absorb the dying worms.

It is our responsibility to take care of our beloved pets.  Heartworm prevention is definitely a good start to assist in insuring they have long, active lives and healthy hearts.




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