Heartworm Prevention

What is heartworm disease? 

Heartworm is a parasitic worm carried by an infected mosquito. Once a dog is bitten, the heartworm larva makes their way to the dog’s heart and eventually grows into large, spaghetti-like worms. Heartworm disease is a severe condition that can result in heart failure, organ failure, and death in pets if left untreated. Other pets and people can’t catch heartworm from their heartworm-infected pets.

The risk of infection is a threat to every unprotected dog across the United States, particularly in southern states with warmer climates where mosquitoes thrive.

Heartworms
Photo provided by the FDA.

How is heartworm diagnosed? 

Heartworm infection is diagnosed with a heartworm antigen test. Heartworm proteins can be detected in a dog’s bloodstream about 5-6 months after bitten by an infected mosquito. The severity of the disease is related to how many worms are living inside the dog’s heart. 

Sleeping dog

What are the symptoms of heartworm?  

Symptoms of the disease may not be obvious in dogs that have a low worm count or are not very active. Dogs with a heavy worm count or who have been infected for a long time often show apparent symptoms of heartworm disease. These include a persistent cough, fatigue, decreased appetite, weight loss, and a swollen belly as the disease progresses. Since these symptoms may not appear right away, it’s important to have your dog tested once per year by a licensed veterinarian.

We can’t stress this enough: If left untreated, heartworm will progress and cause damage to the dog’s heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, eventually causing death. 

How is heartworm treated?

Treatment of heartworm-positive dogs includes 30 days of antibiotics and a series of three deep muscle injections given 30 days apart. These injections can be painful. Following treatment, dogs are placed on activity restrictions while the worms die for 6-8 weeks. Ruff Start’s vetting team ensures each animal going through heartworm treatment is kept as comfortable as possible. After heartworm treatment is complete, dogs must remain on heartworm preventatives for the remainder of their life. 

Prevention is the best medicine. 

There are multiple products to prevent heartworm disease, and most are given monthly. Giving your pet preventatives year-round is best and offers great peace of mind. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian to decide which preventative and schedule will work for you. There are generic versions of heartworm preventatives to help be more cost-effective. 

Dog taking medicine

Each of these dogs got a second chance when Ruff Start said YES to rescuing them despite their heartworm diagnosis.

How is Ruff Start helping animals infected with heartworm? 

Not every animal welfare organization can help heartworm infected animals. Thankfully, Minnesota allows us to bring animals in need over state lines so we can save them from euthanasia, treat their disease, and help them find loving homes.

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