Health & Care

Everything You Should Know About Heartworm Prevention, Treatment, & More

heartworm prevention

You want to do the best you can for your pet, which is great, but there are certain dangers you cannot ignore like heartworms. Regrettably, this infection is common because it is so easy to get.

Health Research Funding estimates that about a million dogs are infected with this infection each year.

The wise thing to do is to learn as much as you can about this ailment and take steps to reduce your dog’s risk of heartworms.

What are the Chances of a Dog Getting Heartworms? 

As mentioned earlier, the chances of your dog getting heartworms are high, especially since only 55 percent of dogs are taking something to prevent heartworm at the moment, according to the Health Research Funding.

This parasitic roundworm grows inside a dog’s heart, lungs, and other vital organs after being bitten by an infected mosquito. It takes seven months for symptoms to develop, which only makes things worse.

It is going to be pretty hard to fight off mosquitoes when your dog is out and about, which is part of the reason this infection is hard to prevent.

How do you Know if Your Dog has Heartworms? 

The infection is out there, all it takes is a bite, which scares many dog owners.

It is okay to be concerned, but you can prepare to deal with this issue. Of course, you should have your vet’s number in your phone’s contact list.

You should also know the symptoms related to heartworms or Dirofilaria immitis.

Keep in mind that later stages of the infection could cause symptoms to increase in number, which means seeing more symptoms is not a good thing.

Another thing that should be noted is that the severity of the symptoms your pet will experience depends on other factors such as the following:

  • Your dog is extremely active
  • Your furry pet has additional health issues, making his or her body even weaker
  • The dog is already suffering from a worm infestation elsewhere

The following are just some of the symptoms your dog may display should he or she get infected with this parasitic roundworm:

  • Some dogs develop a persistent cough that does not go away
  • Some dogs may begin to lose their appetite for no apparent reason
  • Of course, the appetite issue is going to lead to weight loss
  • Your dog may grow tired quicker than before
  • Some dogs get so tired that they actually just stop exercising altogether
  • Dogs with an advanced infection could develop swollen stomachs

Some dog owners can unknowingly ignore some of these symptoms, thinking it is something minor that will pass.

Many dog owners are simply are unaware of what these symptoms could mean.

This causes the dog to be sick longer than he or-or she needs to be.

Failure to take care of this ailment as soon as the first few symptoms manifest could lead to even more complications that could put your pet’s quality of life and his or her life in danger.

Dogs could begin to suffer from Caval syndrome. This is a major complication that results from the blockage of blood flow within the dog’s heart. It is a major issue that could lead to death.

Dogs who develop this problem will display other symptoms worth noting such as labored breathing, pale gums, and coffee-colored urine.

The urine has blood in it, which gives it that dark, coffee-like color and it is a disconcerting sight.

It goes without saying that you need to make sure your dog sees the vet as soon as possible if you suspect he or she has developed Caval syndrome.

Those who need a visual aid to better understand how the symptoms of the heartworm disease manifest should check out this YouTube video for further explanation.

When is it Necessary to Get a Heartworm Test?

Learning the signs or the symptoms is great but that does not mean you can diagnose your pet. A veterinarian can be helpful here.

Learning the symptoms helps you know when to bring in your pet to be tested and the best time to have your dog tested for this disease is as soon as you notice any of the aforementioned signs.

A vet can perform various tests. This means you can have different tests, depending on the vet you choose, making your choice pretty important.

It would be a good idea to simply look at reviews from third-party sites or from past customers to ensure that the right vet has been chosen.

The next thing you want to do is find out what kind of tests are going to be performed.

What you want is a vet that is going to use as many tools as possible to find out if your dog has the heartworm disease. More than likely your vet is going to draw some blood and test it for heartworms.

What you want to ask is how involved in this test is going to be. Some vets use a fast-acting test that allows him or her to know the results in about 15 minutes though it could be faster.

Sometimes, vets use methods that can take a few days, which are usually more involved.

Part of what makes these tests longer is because your pet doctor sends the blood work to a lab to have it tested before he or she is given the results.

This type of test is a little more certain since the results are vetted by a number of specialists before they are given to you.

The vet you choose may also take another approach using x-rays. The vet is simply going to take an x-ray of your pet’s chest to confirm that the infection is present.

Some use ultrasound technology as well to essentially do the same thing.

Performing many tests to confirm the problem actually helps the vet in a number of ways.

For example, the vet has to make sure that these symptoms are indeed linked to this disease because some of these symptoms can be pointing to other issues.

The other reason for performing many tests is necessary is to understand the severity of the infection. Confirming all this information helps your vet take more effective steps towards treatments.

Diving into what these tests are meant to detect might help you understand what your vet is trying to do and why it may take some time.

The differences between the tests performed on your dog deal with what the vet is looking for.

Some tests are designed to look for adult worms within your dog’s organs whereas others are looking for microfilaria.

The vet is probably going to use the antigen test to look for adult worms that cannot even be detected until your dog has been infected with this disease for six and a half to seven months. The antigen detection stems from female adult worms.

This means your dog could be inaccurately cleared of this infection if the female worms are not fully developed or if the infection is not mature enough.

To be more certain, some vets will test your dog for microfilaria. Usually, vets use concentration tests to detect microfilaria, which could be done in a number of ways.

For example, some like the modified Knott’s test that uses a centrifuge to help concentrate microfilaria.

Other vets may prefer to use the filter test, which basically means passing a sample from your dog through a fine filter designed to trap microfilaria.

These tests are relatively effective but that does not mean they are perfect, which is part of the reason a good vet is going to go through a rigorous vetting process to confirm the infection.

Concentration tests could give off a false reading for a number of reasons; for one, it could be that none of the worms are mature enough to start mating, which produces microfilariae.

It could be that there is only one sex within your dog’s organs, so mating is pretty much impossible.

In short, you want to make sure that your vet is ready to perform a number of tests to ensure that the infection is being caused by heartworms and not another parasite or medical condition.

Keep in mind that puppies that are less than six or seven months do not really need to be tested because they normally do not get infected.

That does not mean you should let them roam free in a field of mosquitoes because there are plenty of ailments that could affect puppies.

How Much Does it Cost to Treat a Dog for Heartworms? 

This is a complex question that depends on a number of different factors; for one, the severity of the infection could change your overall expenses.

You also have to worry about the varying fees each vet could charge you to help your dog.

The overall cost of the treatment also depends on the kind of procedures that are going to have to take place to get your dog back to health.

Sometimes, the treatment is going to require a series of injections while other times the dog is going to have to be left under the care of the vet for some time.

You should also think about recovery, which is probably going to take a couple of months though that does depend on your dog’s overall health.

You are going to have to give your dog some recovery medications, not to mention ensure that he or she is still happy while recovering, which takes time.

The American Animal Hospital Association says that the average cost of treatment for this disease could be anywhere between $400 to $1000 through the number could definitely vary if there are additional complications.

The cost will understandably go up should the disease be left untreated long enough to cause issues like heart disease.

This means that it can cost you thousands of dollars to get your pet back to health because of the domino effect created by heartworm disease.

All those visits to and from the vet office are going to cost you some cash.

Sure, you may have taken precautions and purchased a good insurance plan, which would definitely help reduce costs, but make sure that the insurance plan you chose actually covers heartworm and its related costs.

Yes, this disease can definitely burn through some of your cash, but your pet is worth the trouble, and a good vet should definitely be able to offer you a number of payment options to make this ordeal a little less financially stressful.

Do You have to Test for Heartworm Every Year? 

Dogs are more susceptible to this disease and should be tested every single year.

Granted, the best thing you can do for your dog is engaging in preventative measures by ensuring that your dog is tested every single year, about six to seven months after the summer season when mosquitoes are running wild.

Puppies, as mentioned earlier, do not have to be tested if they are younger than seven months, but preventative care is important.

Those who are thinking of starting a preventive heartworm prevention program should definitely consider testing your pets first before you start taking medication or a natural remedy.

This is important because the preventive drugs and tools are made to prevent the issue and really cannot do much about dealing with the infection if it already took over some of your pet’s organs.

Of course, it may be a good idea to test your dog if your vet believes it is time to do so or if you just adopted the pet from a stranger.

Can Heartworm be Passed From Dog to Dog? 

This question is asked a lot. It is normal to believe that this disease can be passed on from dog to dog, it is an infection after all and some of these can be transmitted through some sort of contact.

This particular disease is not like that because it uses mosquitoes to travel from host to host.

It should be noted that this disease can actually affect more than just dogs. It can affect similar animals like foxes, coyotes, and wolfs.

This means that mosquitoes carrying this disease are more likely in areas where wild animals are common.

Each time a mosquito bites an infected animal, the baby worm or the microfilaria transfers to the mosquito.

Mature worms have their kids and release them into the bloodstream so that they have a chance to be picked up by a mosquito eager to drink blood.

All that needs to happen now is for that mosquito to bite a healthy dog, and the worm finally infects another host.

The microfilaria needs to go through an incubation period when it gets into the mosquito before it can actually infect another animal. This is one reason why infected dogs cannot really pass the disease on to other dogs or people.

Now, this is not to say that it is impossible for a human being to get this issue, but the worm usually does not reach maturation within a human being.

Keep in mind that this parasite can live inside of your pet for five to seven years if it is not treated. It will continue to release babies into your pet’s bloodstream to help mosquitoes infect other pets and will continue to do harm to your pet.

There is no doubt that the heartworm cycle is a vicious one that needs to be stopped.

You might be wondering the following:

“Can heartworm be passed on the dog to dog?” or
“Can heartworm be passed if I kiss my pet?”

The answer is not likely because that is simply not how this infection works.

How do Heartworm Pills Work? 

There is no way around it now; the infection is there and it is affecting your pet. This means that your vet is going to initiate a treatment plan that is going to include the use of a few pills like antibiotics or corticosteroids.

These pills are going to do different things inside the body of your pet. Antibiotics are going to be attacking the bacteria that live within heartworms.

The bacteria, Wolbachia, seems to trigger inflammation, which is dangerous for your pet.

The inflammation caused by this bacteria can make your dog’s lungs and kidneys inflame, which is no good.

The other type of pill that is going to be prescribed is a steroid. This is done to help kill larvae so that the issue is nipped in the bud before festering.

These are just some of the pills used to deal with this problem. Keep in mind that these pills are part of the pre-treatment stage before the vet starts to use injections to get rid of the infection for good. Heartworm treatment is no picnic.

Can you Give a Dog With Heartworms Heartgard? 

This drug should be given to dogs only when it is prescribed. In essence, the dog can take this drug but that does not mean it will help a dog who already has this problem.

Heartgard does not kill adult worms, which will continue to wreak havoc.

This drug is one of the few prescribed, and it is considered a preventive measure but it cannot help a dog with a full-blown infection.

Some people try to skip treatment by using this drug, but your dog is simply going to get worse.

There is no reason to risk the health of your dog simply because you want to save a few bucks. Be sure to take care of this issue as soon as possible to prevent a possible progression.

What are the Side Effects of Heartgard? 

It is important to talk to your vet before letting your dog take this drug so that you can go over some of its side effects.

Your dog can experience some of the following:

  • Varying levels of depression or lethargy
  • Some vomiting
  • The Dog may develop anorexia
  • You may notice diarrhea
  • There may be some dilation of the pupils
  • Staggering may occur
  • Convulsions are a possibility
  • Excessive drooling may develop

Can a Dog be Neutered When They are Heartworm Positive? 

This is a good question that is not easy to answer.

Officially, a dog that is heartworm positive could undergo this procedure. Some vets will probably point out that a stable cardiovascular system makes it easier for a dog to undergo the spaying process, so it best to have the procedure before treatment starts.

A dog undergoing treatment and even recovering will not be ready for such a treatment.

It is ultimately up to you after you talk to your vet about the situation. You can just wait until the treatment and recovery are periods is over before spaying your dog.

What is Immiticide Treatment for Heartworm? 

Immiticide or melarsomine treatment is one of the most effective treatments to kill adult heartworms.

These are the types of worms responsible for the heart, lung, and other vital organ damage.

It is this damage that vets are afraid of and the reason why dealing with these adult worms is important.

The treatment does involve injections and it also requires ivermectin-based treatment to help prevent any new worms from forming.

What are the Side Effects of Heartworm Medication? 

Your dog is going to be given heartworm medication if he or she has this disease. You will probably be happy to know that the issue will be addressed but worried about what that could mean for your pet.

Medications always come with side effects, and they are usually not too pleasant. It is hard to think that your pet is going to have to go through some discomfort, but you will be there to make things better for your pet.

The side effects of most medications for this issue are stomach issues such as diarrhea or vomiting.

Some dogs may experience other issues such as incoordination, which could make things a little difficult for your dog.

Other dogs could develop allergic reactions like itching, hives, or even swelling in different areas of the body.

There are some dogs who have even more severe reactions to their medications, such as seizures or even shock.

It is important to communicate everything to your vet so that he or she can monitor any complications. This will help ensure your dog’s safety.

What are the Side Effects of Interceptor? 

Interceptor heartworm is another popular medication to prevent this disease, and it has similar side effects as the Heartguard medication.

This includes side effects like depression, vomiting, loss of appetite, and seizures just to name a few.

Can you Treat Heartworms With Ivermectin? 

Ivermectin is a prescribed medication that is usually given to a dog along with the Immiticide treatment but not always.

The ivermectin monthly treatment is sometimes called the slow kill treatment, which is often opted for when the injection treatment is too expensive. Sometimes, this medication is given to prevent further infections.

There are times when the dog’s health does not allow him or her to undergo the injection treatment, meaning this is the only option.

The only problem is that the adult worms will be left to do damage longer and that should trouble you.

This is definitely something you have to discuss with your doctor and pet health insurance company to figure out the best option for your pet.

Sentinel Heartworm 

Sentinel is a powerful, monthly preventative measure that you can take if your pet does not have this issue.

It does require a vet’s prescription, so you do need to have this conversation with him or her before you are able to start this treatment.

Part of what makes Sentinel such a popular option is it guards a dog against more than just baby heartworms but also helps prevent roundworms, adult hookworms, whipworms, as well as well as flea eggs.

The price for this medication is reasonable enough, so make sure you consider adding it to your heartworm-prevention arsenal.

What is the Best Heartworm Medicine?

As you can see, there are a number of options out there for you. Some medications help prevent the issue while others deal with it more directly.

It is hard to say what is the best heartworm medicine because all of them have advantages and disadvantages.

Perhaps the best thing that could be said is that the key to finding the best treatment for your dog is customizing the treatment plan.

This means that you and your vet should work on creating a plan that uses the medications that work best for your dog to help protect him or her from this infection.

Natural Heartworm Prevention

You’ve learned a lot about using medicines to prevent this infection, but there are a number of natural options to consider as well.

For example, you can make sure that your pet does not go out around the time mosquitoes will likely be feeding, which is usually later in the afternoon or around dusk, according to Mosquito Magnet.

You can also make sure your dog stays in when the heat rises because mosquitoes come out then, too.

It may be a good idea to make sure all your insect screens are intact, and you should consider using natural bug repellent sprays for your pet.

There are also a few concoctions out there made to help make your dog less attractive to mosquitoes.

These blends usually contain things like diatomaceous earth and black walnut along with a few essential oils.

You can talk to a natural health specialist to get more information on natural alternatives if you are interested in that.

Still, you will need to create a natural prevention plan with your vet to make sure you are on the same page.

Heartworm is far too common and too easily passed. Approaching prevention as a team is the smart thing to do.

Heartworm Prevention for Puppies 

Puppies may not get heartworm but that does not mean prevention shouldn’t start early on.

There are a number of heartworm prevention medicines that are actually safe for puppies so it is only a matter of preference.

Granted, the specifications vary from medication to medication, but usually, a dog as young as six weeks can start his or her medication.

Most vets actually recommend that puppies start on their heartworm prevention treatment on their first visit, but you can start on your own, provided you read the specifications on the medication you chose.

How Often Should I Give my Dog Heartworm Medicine? 

This is a good question, and the truth is that you are supposed to give your pet his or her medication every month. A vet is probably going to tell you not to stop giving him or her this medication.

Yes, mosquitoes are most active during warmer seasons like spring and summer but that does not mean they are not around during any other season.

Consider your particular region to get a better idea. For example, if you live in a place that is warm most of the year and is not too seasonal, your dog may have a higher chance of getting bit by mosquitos.

It should also be noted that the American Heartworm Society points out that several states in the United States are known to have a high heartworm infection rate.

This and the quality of life of your pet makes year-round prevention necessary.

Keep in mind that other common pets could be infected by this disease like ferrets and even cats though that is rare, which means that those who own any of these pets should also take steps to stay heartworm-free.