Are Heartworms Killing Your Best Friend?
I'm going to talk about something that's a little off-topic of agriculture. But it's something that's important for a lot of people. Rather, important for a lot of peoples best friend, their dog. I'm sure just about all of you reading this have a dog or have had a dog. We all know just how precious and unrelenting a dogs love is. For those of you who are like me, my dog is my child. He goes everywhere with me and his favorite thing is to take a road trip to McDonalds for a hamburger. Well last month, I took my dog, Jasper, to the vet for his annual shots. Along with his shots, he was tested for heartworms and it came back positive. For those of you who don't know, heartworms are fatal parasitic worms that live in major blood vessels and lungs. One dog can be infected with as many as 300 worms. The worms themselves aren't what is fatal to the dog; it's the disease they cause by clogging the heart and interfering with the valve action in the heart. Heartworm disease is spread through the bite of a mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, the blood it draws contains immature heartworms called microfilariae. The microfilariae mature while inside the mosquito into infective larvae. The larvae then enter a new host whenever the mosquito bites another dog. Once inside a new host, the heartworms will continue their life cycle of reproducing and growing. Most dogs that have heartworms don't show signs for as long as two years. By this time the disease is very advanced and irreversible damage has been done. The most common signs are dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina.
Jasper is currently undergoing treatment to rid him of heartworms. The blood test his veterinarian did showed that he only had adult heartworms and no microfilariae. Which means that he has only had heartworms for less than 6 months. This was good news. Early diagnosis means early treatment and less damage the disease has done to Jasper's cardiovascular system. He is currently taking pills every day and will be going back to the vet once a month for shots. These shots will kill the heartworms; the heartworms will decompose and break up then be reabsorbed by the body. The most important thing I must try to control during Jasper's treatment is his heart rate. If he gets too excited or gets too much exercise and his heart rate goes up it could cause a large number of dead heartworms to flood the heart and blood vessels which would cause an aneurysm. Such trauma could cause sudden death. For this reason, Jasper lives in his crate in my room and is only allowed to go outside on a leash for bathroom breaks.
I was lucky that this disease was caught early. Other dogs that have advanced heartworm disease will have significant damage to their heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys and liver. For dogs that have too advanced heartworm disease, it's safer to treat the organ damage than to try to kill the heartworms. These dogs will not live more than a few week
s or months. Jasper's vet is very optimistic that his treatment will go well and he will be just fine. But honestly, he should never had contracted this disease in the first place. Heartworm disease is 100% preventable through oral or topical medications that you only have to give once a month. This preventative medicine is readily found and inexpensive. Jasper had not been on preventive medicine but he certainly will be after his treatment is complete. I'm sharing my experience with you so that you may learn from my mistake. So if you have a dog that isn't on preventative heartworm medicine please take him to the vet to get tested for heartworms and put on preventive medicine. I hope for Jasper to have a full recovery and hope that the rest of you will take action for your best friends.
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- Dallis Beckfield