The month of April was an eye-opener for our staff as we diagnosed heartworms in four dogs from De Soto or the outlying area. Fortunately, the dogs are improving and will eventually recover from the life-threatening parasites.
Why is the Old Doc bringing up this broken record? The answer is simple. Heartworms are here in De Soto and will never go away as long as dogs exist and the carrier mosquitoes are abundant. Let’s talk again about heartworms and what we can do about it.
Heartworm disease is a parasitic disease of the blood stream, seen mostly in dogs but sometimes in cats (we have never seen a case in cats in our clinic).
The disease is spread when a mosquito bites an infected dog, picking up a small — immature microfilaria larva of the heartworm — which is then deposited in the blood system of the next dog it bites. After about six months, adult heartworms develop in the right side of the heart. The adult male and female heartworms breed in the dog’s blood system and heart. Larva develop, which are picked up again by mosquitoes to infect other dogs.
This goes on daily in our neighborhoods. But before we talk prevention, consider the consequences of the disease.
If infected, a dog can have as many as 50 adult heartworms up to 14 inches long take up shop in the dog’s right heart ventricle and atrium, sometimes spilling over to the large blood vessel feeding the lungs. If not treated and eliminated, heart failure will begin slowly and insidiously. Symptoms include a soft cough, lack of stamina, shortness of breath, and maybe collapse.
If a dog is diagnosed with heartworms early enough, treatment can be very successful. No longer to veterinarians have to give intravenous arsenic compounds that risk poisoning the patient. Usually, a blood count, chemistry test will be performed to assess a dog’s health and its ability to withstand treatment, while chest X-rays taken to assess pulmonary and cardiac damage.
Heartworms are a very serious problem, but your veterinarian’s knowledge and skill, combined with modern medicines, provide pets with a good chance to recover and lead normal lives.
Recently, a client who lives in east Lawrence brought in his German shorthair for its annual checkup and vaccinations. We learned during questioning, the dog wasn’t current on its heartworm prevention medication and had developed a cough. A blood test proved positive for heartworms.
The owner was distraught. He was a long-distance runner and had his dog join him on a 10-mile run the weekend before. I was amazed the dog survived the run. Fortunately, the disease was in its early stages and the dog has since completed treatment and gained three pounds and his cough is all but gone.
At the clinic, we have many stories of dogs successfully restored to health. But we also have seen dogs that didn’t survive treatment, die suddenly or where diagnosed too late for success.
If your dog has not been on heartworm preventative medication, have it tested. If negative, get it on the preventative chewable tablet given once a month.
Think of it as saving the dog’s life. How about that? Not many of us can be considered a hero, but by keeping your dog free of heartworms you can be a hero in your dog and family’s eyes.