Although there is still snow on the ground left over from Monday's surprise storm, we have had some days of beautiful spring weather. The weatherman continues to promise warmer weather, warmer weather means mosquitoes and mosquitoes mean heartworm. That's why I've taken my dog to our veterinarian for his heartworm test and heartworm preventive.
The AHS (American Heartworm Society), www.heartwormsociety.org, the AVMA and the AAHA (www.healthypet.com) provide information about the parasite and heartworm disease. According to these organizations, heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially fatal parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets.
"Heartworm has recently been diagnosed in about 30 species of animals in all 50 states, and affects millions of indoor and outdoor pets," according to the AAHA.
All dogs regardless of age, sex, or living environment are susceptible to heartworm infection, notes the AVMA.
Heartworm can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes that are infected with heartworms. One bite and your dog, cat or ferret can be infected. The cycle goes like this: When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms enter into that mosquito's system. In the next two weeks, they develop into infective larvae inside the mosquito. Then the mosquito bites another dog or cat (or other animal) and the infected larvae enter through the bite wound.
Once inside the body, the heartworms develop invisibly within the dog, (or other pet) nesting and reproducing, lodging in your animal's lungs and/or right sides of your animal's heart. The heartworms damage blood vessels and reduce the heart's pumping ability. The presence of heartworms in the vital blood vessels of the lungs can cause death. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, it's called heartworm disease.
If a dog is recently or mildly infected with heartworms, he may not show any signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in his lungs.
The signs of heartworm disease include a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, lethargy, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
The AVMA reports there are numerous diagnostic tests available for your veterinarian to detect the presence of adult heartworm infection in your dog. Antigen tests detect the presence of adult female heartworms and antibody tests determine if your pet has been exposed to heartworms. The antigen test is most commonly performed and is very accurate in dogs.
There is an FDA -- approved treatment available if your dog becomes infected with heartworms, as noted by the AVMA. There is substantial risk involved in treating dog for heartworms. However, serious complications are much less likely in dogs that are in good health and when veterinarian's instructions are followed carefully.
The goal of heartworm treatment is to kill the heartworms present in your dog, as safely as possible. When a dog is treated, it's important to consider heartworms are dying inside the dogs lungs. Therefore, while your dog is treated, he will require complete rest throughout hospitalization and for some time following the last treatment. Also, other medications may be necessary to help control the body's inflammatory reaction as the worms die and are broken down in the dog's lungs.
Both the AVMA and the AHS report heartworm infection is almost 100 percent preventable. There are several FDA-approved heartworm preventives available including daily and monthly tablets and chewables and other formulations. Your veterinarian can recommend the best method of prevention based upon your dog's risk factors and lifestyle.
The AHS sums it up: "Heartworms Agonizing to Treat. Easy to Prevent."
If you haven't already done it, get your dog tested and get the heartworm preventive. If you share your life with a dog, heartworm testing and giving him the preventive will keep him safe. He trusts you to do it for him.
• The Buddy Foundation is a nonprofit (501c3), all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For more information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org.