Heartworm infection in dogs
Heartworm infection in dogs is a serious and fatal condition caused by a blood-borne parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis, which is a nematode, normally known as the heartworm. The severity of the infection will depend on the number of worms present in the animal, the time they have been there, and the host’s (dog) response.
Although Dirofilaria immitis is more common in tropical and subtropical areas, it can be found in all parts of the world. The worm, which is usually one foot long or more, can live in the lungs, heart, and other organs in the body, causing severe failure.
Causes of heartworm infection in dogs
The parasite causing heartworm disease is spread by the bites of mosquitoes carrying the larvae. In a process that lasts approximately six months, the larvae migrate through the body until they reach blood vessels within the heart and lungs.
The larvae continue to grow and mature there to become an adult of up to 12 inches. These adults will then reproduce and release microfilariae (immature heartworms) into the bloodstream. A mosquito then bites an infected dog, bringing in the microfilariae, which mature inside the mosquito’s body and is then passed on to another dog. This is basically the life cycle of the parasite.
Dogs with greater exposure to heartworm disease are those living within endemic regions, exposed to mosquitoes, and lack proper preventive medications.
Symptoms of heartworm infection in dogs
Usually, it takes years for a dog to show any sign of infection. Therefore, the disease is usually diagnosed in dogs aged two to seven years. Some of the symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs include:
- Dog coughing
- Poor body condition
- Exercise intolerance
The symptoms will depend on the type of infection. Dogs with Class I heartworm are usually asymptomatic. The above signs are present in dogs with Class II heartworm disease. A poor body condition worsens in a Class III and Class IV dogs suffer from caval syndrome which is caused by the presence of so many worms that they obstruct the flow of blood to the heart.
Heartworm disease in dogs: treatment
If your dog tests positive in an antigen test the veterinarian will confirm with a different test. This is necessary since the treatment for a heartworm infection is rather long and expensive, so he needs to be sure that the treatment will be effective.
The veterinarian will restrict the physical activity of the dog and stabilize the disease before beginning the treatment. In some dogs, this may take months. Once the vet administers the treatment, six months later, he will require your dog for examination.
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