A shelter found him wandering the streets of Louisiana and luckily was only in the shelter about a month before he was adopted by the Cook family, and brought home to New England in Dec 2015. Remington had a negative heartworm test before he left the shelter. He tested positive for heartworm disease at his annual wellness exam in March 2017 and has already begun treatment. He was on heartworm prevention, although his owners admit he may have missed a dose in the winter months. They also report he showed no outwardly signs of having heartworm disease, stating, ” He seems perfectly normal, youthful, happy, fun-loving lab!”
We caught the disease early and we are sure he will make a full recovery, but the treatment is expensive, time-consuming, and requires strict activity restriction for many months.
What is heartworm disease?
Disease caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.
Who is at risk?
Cats, dogs, and ferrets.
What causes heartworm disease?
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
n the early stages of the disease, many dogs show few symptoms or no symptoms at all. The longer the infection persists, the more likely symptoms will develop. Active dogs, dogs heavily infected with heartworms, or those with other health problems often show pronounced clinical signs.
Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.
How is heartworm disease diagnosed?
A simple blood test. Beginning at 1 year of age, we will begin testing your dog by taking a blood sample and performing a fast, in-house test, then annually. It takes at least 6-7 months for heartworm disease to show up on a test. We may recommend a test for dogs that are transported from high risk states 6 months after arriving in New England.
What if my dog tests positive?
No one wants to hear that their dog has heartworm, but the good news is that most infected dogs can be successfully treated. The goal is to first stabilize your dog if he is showing signs of disease, then kill all adult and immature worms while keeping the side effects of treatment to a minimum.
Here’s what you should expect if your dog tests positive:
- Confirm the diagnosis. Once a dog tests positive on an antigen test, the diagnosis should be confirmed with an additional—and different—test. Because the treatment regimen for heartworm is both expensive and complex, your veterinarian will want to be absolutely sure that treatment is necessary.
- Restrict exercise. This requirement might be difficult to adhere to, especially if your dog is accustomed to being active. But your dog’s normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, because physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. The more severe the symptoms, the less activity your dog should have.
- Stabilize your dog’s disease. Before actual heartworm treatment can begin, your dog’s condition may need to be stabilized with appropriate therapy. In severe cases of heartworm disease, or when a dog has another serious condition, the process can take several months.
- Administer treatment. Once your veterinarian has determined your dog is stable and ready for heartworm treatment, he or she will recommend a treatment protocol involving several steps. The American Heartworm Society has guidelines for developing this plan of attack. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease, such as cough or exercise intolerance, have a high success rate with treatment. More severe disease can also be successfully treated, but the possibility of complications is greater. The severity of heartworm disease does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms, and dogs with many worms may have few or no symptoms early in the course of the disease.
- Test (and prevent) for success. Approximately 6 months after treatment is completed, your veterinarian will perform a heartworm test to confirm that all heartworms have been eliminated. To avoid the possibility of your dog contracting heartworm disease again, you will want to administer heartworm prevention year-round for the rest of his life.
Is there a way to prevent heartworm disease?
Yes! Give your pet monthly, year-round heartworm preventative starting as a puppy, and continue for life!
Do I need a prescription?
Yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling on heartworm preventives states that the medication is to be used by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. This means heartworm preventives must be purchased from your veterinarian after an annual physical wellness exam, and yearly heartworm testing.
Where can I learn more information about heartworm disease?
Click here to visit the American Heartworm Society’s website.
During the month of April, Animal health center is offering 20% your dog’s heartworm test when you also purhcase a year supply of heartworm prevention.