by Anza Goodbar
(last updated February 17, 2012)
Heartworms are parasites that are common in dogs and cats. It is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite an infected animal then go on to bite a non infected animal. They are small white worms that can grow up to five inches long. They are called heartworms due to the fact that they congregate around the heart and oxygen rich arteries leading from the lungs to the heart.
Heartworms are easy and inexpensive to prevent. Heartworm treatment can be expensive and dangerous for the animal and it can even lead to death. That is why pet owners should protect their animals by having them tested and administering preventative medicine. This medicine acts like a vaccine, killing the heartworm larvae before they can develop into adults. The only way heartworm can be contracted is through mosquito bites.
Heartworm symptoms don't manifest until the heartworms have grown to maturity. Annual check-ups can diagnose the problem before the larvae has fully developed and lodge in the animals heart. Since symptoms don't occur until the worm has attached to the heart walls, diagnosis can be too late if not detected early.
If your pet contracts a cough that doesn't go away in a short period of time or if he becomes lethargic and refuses any kind of physical activity call the Vet. These could be signs of heartworm. While these are signs of heartworm, they are also symptoms of other ailments that need medical attention.
The Vet can test for larvae, if found he will order an x-ray to determine if any worms have lodged themselves to the heart walls. The findings of the x-ray will determine the treatment. If adult worms are found, treatment of an arsenic based medicine will be administered to kill the adult worms. Normal treatment is two injections over the course of two days. Once the worm dies, it is naturally expelled from the heart. It is essential to keep the animal from exerting too much energy. If the worm particles are expelled to quickly it could cause an embolism and even death. After six weeks, the Vet will start the animal on an oral medication to kill any remaining larvae.
Heartworm can be a dangerous disease for pets. The best way to protect your pet is to have annual check-ups where he is tested for heartworm and taking monthly preventative medicine. Should your pet display signs of being infected, seek veterinary care immediately.
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