Rottweilers, one of the classic protection dog breeds

The Truth About Heartworm: The Facts, Medications and Alternative Treatments

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Dog owners are warned annually about the dangers of heartworm. If you are considering acquiring personal protection dogs, then you may be wondering what the threat of heartworm means for you. If you’re looking into personal protection dogs for sale, you want animals in good condition.

These parasites should be taken seriously by dog owners, breeders, and trainers. With the right information and treatment plan, owners can protect their canines. Read on to learn more about heartworm, and how owners can protect the health of their personal protection dogs.

What Exactly Is A Heartworm?

The dog heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a thin, threadlike parasite known as roundworm. The roundworm first infects mosquitoes, who pass it along to certain victims that they bite. The heartworm has been found in:

  • wild canines
  • felines, both wild and domestic
  • humans (rarely)

but its favorite target is the domestic dog.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm goes through multiple stages of development during life. Some of these occur in their mosquito hosts. After a dog is bitten, the heartworm spends just about a week right under the bite site, changing from one larva stage to the next. The heartworm then moves from the bite to the dog’s chest area.

It spends about two months here, undergoing more growth. About 75 to 120 days after the dog was first bitten, the heartworm “swims” into the dog’s bloodstream. Its destination is the dog’s heart. Once it gets there, it takes up residence in the heart’s pulmonary artery, continuing to grow.

In the safety of the artery, the heartworm grows significantly. Once it reaches maturity, it reproduces. Heartworm can live for up to five to seven years in a host, and as many as 250 adult heartworms have been found in a dog’s body. The heartworms wriggling young remain in the dog until it is again bitten by a mosquito. That mosquito is infected by the young parasites, and the cycle repeats itself.

Because this infestation process takes months, protection dogs won’t begin to show signs of heartworm disease for at least six months after being bitten by a mosquito. Even then, if a heartworm infestation is light, dogs may be symptom-free. They and their owners may never be aware that there is an infestation. In cases of light infestations, a victim’s white blood cells may take on and dispose of the invaders.

But if a protection dog has suffered a heavy infestation or is very active, it will show noticeable symptoms of heartworm disease. Also, if heartworm dies and its body begins to decompose in the dog’s body, wolbacteria can form. This condition can also cause health issues.

Early indications of heartworm disease include:

  • coughing during and after exercise
  • exhaustion during and after exercise

“Advanced” heartworm disease occurs when there are a number of adult heartworm living in the dog’s heart. Advanced heartworm disease symptoms include:

  • excessive and unexplained weight loss
  • dog passes out for no reason
  • dog coughs up blood
  • late-stage congestive heart failure

Heartworm can also damage other organs, such as the lungs.

Rethinking Heartworm

Scientists have been aware of the dog heartworm, its life cycle, and how it infects its hosts for many decades. But experts have also believed some misinformation about this pest for a number of years. The primary mistake concerns the heartworm’s primary host.

Female mosquitoes (the only ones that bite) are generally inactive in temperatures under 57 degrees Fahrenheit. If they’re not biting, they’re not passing along the heartworm larva. Therefore, generations of veterinarians have told clients that their protection dogs only risked heartworm infestation in warmer parts of the country.

For many years, residents and visitors to certain geographical areas (primarily extreme southeastern areas of the United States) were warned to guard against dog heartworm. In other parts of the country, dog owners were told that they needn’t be overly worried.

In “heartworm country” dog owners were assured that if they only allowed dogs free access to the great out of doors at certain times of the day or year, dogs were protected. However, according to information shared by the Heartworm Society, numerous pets have been bitten indoors by mosquitoes.

And while lower temperatures will kill adult mosquitoes, this has no effect on mosquito eggs. These eggs can survive for up to two years in frozen ground. Even brief periods of warmer temperatures provide enough time for these eggs to hatch, mature, become infected, and pass on parasites. Veterinarians are now warning dog owners that heartworm treatment and precautions are a year-round job in all parts of the country.

The Latest Heartworm Map

Heartworm is now found in every state and is spreading at an alarming rate across Europe. Experts predict that the situation will continue to worsen with global warming. The Heartworm Society’s 2016 survey (its last was conducted in 2013) shows that while parasite distribution was steady overall, there’s been an increase in reported heartworm cases of 21.6 percent over the 2013 data.

States where heartworm infection is most prevalent (in order):

  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • Arkansas
  • Texas
  • Tennessee
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia
  • North Carolina
  • Alabama
  • Florida

Heartworm conditions range from moderate to poor (areas of the upper West and Midwest) in other parts of the country. The Heartworm Society has seen an increase in heartworm prevalence nationwide since it began compiling data in 2001.

Treating Heartworm

Treating an already infected dog is time-consuming, expensive, and not always effective in severe cases. Some infected dogs also require system stabilizing therapy before actual heartworm treatment can begin.

To avoid this, it’s recommended by veterinarians that all dog owners give their canines a once-monthly heartworm medication. There are several oral and injectable options. Side effects are rare and include hair loss and nausea.

While they take longer to work and there is not yet enough data to confirm effectiveness, alternative medical treatments have gotten good results in some cases. With such an option, the preventative treatment seems to work best. Here, dogs are given regular doses of natural remedies such as black walnut or mugglewort to drive away mosquitoes.

Owners with protection dogs already suffering from heartworm should consult with a homeopathic veterinarian to ensure safe and effective natural medicine therapies. Another alternative option is surgery. But because of the risks inherent with it, this should be considered only after other options have failed.

Whether adopting a puppy from a pound or considering personal protection dogs for sale, potential owners must increasingly consider heartworm. “Understanding the enemy” and the many options for treating it is an important step in safeguarding a dog’s health.


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