Forget Heartworm, Think Preventative

In the Sacramento and Sierra Foothills Heart worm disease is prevalent. We, who live in these areas, must be responsible pet owners and prevent our furry friends from acquiring this preventable disease.

If you have ever had a dog undergo Heart worm Disease treatment you know how important it is to prevent it. It is an unnecessary disease that is easily prevented. It only take ONE Mosquito to give a dog this disease

Year Round Protection Needed

Canine heart worm is a serious disease caused by a parasitic worm, which lives in the lungs, heart and associated blood vessels of an infected animal. These parasites are spread from one dog to another by blood-sucking mosquitoes, therefore it is most commonly warm weather conditions such as those in our area. The dog is the definitive host for heart worm parasites, but cats, ferrets, and other mammals are also susceptible to infection. 

What are the Signs of Heart worm Disease in Dogs?

In the early stages of the disease symptoms may not be noticeable.  However, as the disease progresses infected animals may present:

Decreased appetite
Fatigue after moderate activity
Mild persistent cough
Reluctance to exercise
Weight loss
Swollen belly (due to an excess of fluid in the abdominal cavity).
Labored breathing
Pale gums
Dark bloody or coffee-colored urine


Stages of Heartworm Disease in Dogs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines four stages of heart worm disease that every dog parent should recognize.

I’ve rescued many stray dogs that have had Heart worm Disease anywhere from the Class 1 to Class 3, thankfully I’ve never encountered a Class 4.

The treatment outlined below is very hard on the dog being treated. It’s lengthy and the dog needs to be on total crate rest for a long, long time. It is very difficult to watch a dog endure the restrictions and the painful injections.

Treatment of Heartworm Disease

The treatment depends on the stage of the disease. The most commonly prescribed medications are:

Ivermectin is the main ingredient of many heartworm preventive products and it is capable of killing the immature stage of the heartworm parasite (microfilariae). Infected dogs usually receive a microfilariae -killing drug to prevent them from developing into adults and then an adult-killing drug is administered.

Milbemycin is also found on heartworm preventive products (e.g. Sentinel and Interceptor) and it can kill the microfilariae much faster than ivermectin. This can be disadvantageous because large numbers of microfilariae dying at the same time can cause a circulatory shock.

Melarsomine dihydrochloride (Immiticide® by Merial) is the only FDA-approved drug to kill adult worms. Treatment consists of two or three deep injections into the back muscles. These injections are very painful so your dog may also need pain medication.

If Heartworm Disease is not caught early your dog’s heart, lungs and circulatory system may be damaged permanently. This is one reason it is so important to ensure your dog is given the preventative prescribed by your Veterinarian AND that your dog is tested yearly! 

How is Heart worm Disease Prevented?

Given the seriousness of this disease and the difficulties associated with its treatment, it is recommended that ALL dogs receive preventive drugs starting at an early age. 

The American Heart worm Society recommends the following heart worm prevention schedule:

Provided by Dr Foster and Smoth

Provided by Dr Foster and Smoth

  • Puppies under 7 months of age:
    • Heart worm prevention can be initiated without a heart worm test, and they should be tested 6 months after the initial treatment. These patients should be retested 6 months later and yearly thereafter.

  • Dogs over 7 months of age:
    • The test should be conducted before starting heart worm prevention. These patients should be retested 6 months later and yearly thereafter.

If there has been a lapse in prevention:
Dogs should be tested immediately, and then tested again six months later and annually after that.

Keep your dogs healthy and Happy with Heart Worm Preventative

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