Best Friends Pet Care : The Dog Dish
Best Friends Pet Care : The Dog Dish
Best Friends Pet Care : The Dog Dish

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Heartworms 101: Part 3

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So how is heartworm infection treated?

So your dog or cat has been diagnosed with heartworm disease, now what? For dogs, there are approved medications and well established guidelines about how to treat depending on the severity of their disease. For cats, things are a bit trickier since there are no approved treatments for heartworm infection in cats. This is why prevention is so critical.

Let’s cover the basics of treatment for each species individually.

Dogs

Once a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will want to perform some additional tests to get a better idea of how much, if any, damage has already occurred. The reason behind this approach is that the severity of the changes can help gauge the risk for complications. However, even dogs with mild changes can develop complications and will need to be monitored closely. One the most important things that you can do as a pet parent once your dog has been diagnosed with heartworm disease is restrict their activity.  Exertion can increase the risk for further damage and increase the chance of complications either before or during therapy.

Heartworm disease in dogs is typically classified as:

Mild No clinical signs or minimal clinical signs
Moderate May have a cough or exercise intolerance, abnormal lung sounds during physical exam
Severe Cough, exercise intolerance, anemia, abnormal lung sounds during physical exam, enlarged liver, or fluid in the abdomen
Caval syndrome Sudden onset of severe weakness, collapse, discolored urine

Prior to heartworm therapy, your veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic called doxycycline or minocycline. This medication helps eliminate a bacteria carried by the heartworms that can cause complications during therapy. Your veterinarian may also recommend a medication at this time to begin to kill off any baby heartworms (microfilariae) as well.

Therapy to kill the adult heartworms will involve a medication called melarsomine which is given as a series of 3 injections over the course of 1 month. Your dog will get one injection then another 2 injections, 24 hours apart, 30 days later. In addition to STRICT EXERCISE RESTRICTION, your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication during this time to help decrease inflammation that may occur as a result of the dying worms.

About 6 months after treatment, your veterinarian will perform a blood test to confirm that all of the adult worms have been eliminated.

Cats

There are no approved drugs to treat cats with heartworm infections. Unlike in dogs, the goal of therapy in cats is not to eliminate worms, but to manage the clinical signs and try to reduce further damage. For cats with clinical signs such as coughing or wheezing, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication called prednisolone to help reduce inflammation in the airways.

Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest will also be important to determine the severity of the changes in the lungs and assess progression.

Cats can sometimes overcome a heartworm infection on their own over time so blood tests should be performed every 6 to 12 months in heartworm-positive kitties to see if the infection has cleared.

Tags: Ask the Vet, Best Friends Spotlight, Cats, Dogs, Health, Pet advice, Pet behavior, Pet health, Pet info, Tips, Vet

Heartworm Prevention: A Primer for Every Pet Parent

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As a responsible pet parent, you know that you are supposed to keep your fur babies on heartworm preventive, but have you ever wondered why it is so important? What would happen if you didn’t? What if your pet has heartworms – what now?

We believe that information is power and there is A LOT of information on this dreaded disease. Over the next 3 posts, we will cover:

  • An overview of the heartworm lifecycle and how prevention fits into disrupting it
  • How the worms cause signs of illness and what the most accurate tests are for diagnosis
  • What are the safest strategies for treatment

Overview of heartworm biology

So what are heartworms anyway? Heartworms are really just that, worms that live in heart of a dog or cat. But how do they get there?

By now you know that mosquitos are the way these little buggers get into our pets. Mosquitos can carry heartworm larvae (microscopic baby worms called microfilaria) which can enter into the bloodstream of a dog or cat when they are bitten by a mosquito. These larvae whoosh around in the bloodstream for about 6 months, getting bigger and bigger until they can’t fit in the small blood vessels anymore. This is when they essentially get stuck in the heart or, in the case of cats, in the large blood vessels in the lungs.

Once they are in the heart or lungs as adults, male and female worms start making babies (more microfilariae!) which also go out and whoosh around the entire blood stream. Adult heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats! This means that every mosquito season can potentially lead to higher and higher numbers of worms living in your pet.  As this cycle of reproduction goes on over months to years, the adult worms are continuously causing damage to the inside of the heart. In the case of cats, the problems are even more severe since the worms are actually in the lungs.

Pets with microfilariae circulating around in their bloodstream also pose a risk for other pets in the area as well by serving as a reservoir. Mosquitos can bite an infected dog, then carry the microfilariae to another dog and the cycle continues.

How does heartworm prevention work?

This is the part where you come in. The monthly medications that you give your dog or cat to prevent heartworm disease works by killing the baby larvae and microfilariae that may have gotten in via the dreaded mosquito bite. Every month you give the medication, you are potentially killing off a new round of invaders before they have the chance to grow into adult worms and cause disease.

This is why monthly heartworm preventive is critical in areas where there is any mosquito activity. According the recommendations from the American Heartworm Society, the safest option for prevention is for pets to be on heartworm prevention year round.

Our next post cover the basics of how the infection actually makes your dog or cat sick and what are the most accurate way of confirming a diagnosis. Stay tuned…

Tags: Ask the Vet, Cats, Dogs, Health, Pet advice, Pet health, Pet info, Safety, Vet

Happy National Puppy Day!

A big shout out to all of the puppies out there… We Love You!

Happy National Puppy Day!

Tags: Cute, Dog stories, Dogs, Pet Events, Pet info, Pets, Puppies
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