Heartworm Disease

You’ve just been told that your dog has heartworms. Many things probably went through your mind while Dr. Rannals explained the disease and its treatment. The things he told you “in a nutshell” took him years to learn, so we don’t expect you to remember everything you were told. Here is a recap of the problem.

Heartworms are carried by mosquitoes. Once the pet is bitten by the infected mosquito, there is a 5 to 6 month incubation period before the adult heartworm reaches the heart.

Once in the heart, the worm causes obstruction to normal circulation. This can damage the heart as well as other organs, such as the liver, kidneys, brain, and lungs. Resulting signs of heartworm disease include weight loss, chronic coughing, abdominal swelling, and a lack of energy. These symptoms do not occur until the disease has reached an advanced stage; therefore, it is not advisable to delay treatment just because the pet is not showing any of the symptoms. Treatment is most successful before symptoms are present.

About 95% of the pets we see with heartworms can be successfully treated and returned to a normal, healthy state. Heartworm treatment now involves a newer injectable drug, which is safer and more effective than the old “stand-by” used for years. Usually, only an overnight hospital stay is required. After the treatment period is over, the pet is sent home.

Once back home, the pet must be allowed only restricted exercise. NO jogging or chasing cars, squirrels or other dogs can be allowed. Confinement to a fenced yard, pen or the house is recommended for a 4 to 6 week period. During this time, the debris that occurs from the dead worms will be cleaned up by special cells in the body. The lungs are vulnerable to stress at this time, since that is where the debris settles.

During the recovery time at home, we will have several simple check-ups. Additional medications must be given to kill the “baby” heartworms, called microfilaria, so that the pet can be placed on a preventive program. There is no need for your dog to ever get heartworms again.

We hope this helps to answer your questions. If we can be of further assistance, give us a call at 903- 839-7235.