When asked who our best friend is, many of us say “My dog!” Most of us also know that heartworm is one of the most common illnesses that dogs get, impacting 1 in 200 dogs. You’d be surprised at the number of owners that don’t give their dogs preventative medications for this disease because they think that their dog is at lower risk in the area in which they live. Here’s a tip: No matter where you live, you need to give medication to prevent your best friend from getting heartworm, even in Colorado. Read on to find out more.
What is heartworm disease?
It’s no secret that heartworm disease is serious. It can lead to organ damage, heart failure, and death. The severity of heartworm disease is based on the number of worms inside the dog, known as the worm burden, length of time infected, and reaction to the worms. The activity level of the dog is influential in disease severity and first notable symptoms. Dogs with low worm burdens, recently infected, or not very active may not have obvious symptoms of heartworm disease. Dogs with high worm burdens, long-term infection, or highly active frequently have obvious symptoms of heartworm disease. There are four classes, where the lowest class is the least severe and least obvious to detect. These are:
- Class 1. The dog has no or mild symptoms. Symptoms may include an occasional cough.
- Class 2. The dog has mild to moderate symptoms. Symptoms may include occasional cough and/or tiredness after engaging in moderate activity.
- Class 3. The dog has more severe symptoms. Symptoms may include a persistent cough, tiredness after mild activity, trouble breathing, signs of heart failure, and sickly appearance.
- Class 4. This stage is called caval syndrome. Symptoms include a heavy worm burden causing blood flow blockages to the heart. This is life threatening and surgery is required. Even still, most dogs die.
It is noted that for Classes 2 and 3 heartworm disease, it’s possible to see heart and lung changes on x-rays.
How is it transmitted?
Heartworm disease is caused by Dirofilaria immitis, which is a parasitic worm and spread through mosquito bites.The mosquito acts as the intermediate host, enabling the worms to live long enough to be infective prior to being transmitted to the dog, the definitive host, where the worms become adults and mate, leading to increased worms. The name “heartworm” comes from the ability of the adult worms to live in blood vessels associated with and within the lungs and heart.
How is it treated?
Heartworm disease is treated using an FDA-approved drug — melarsomine dihydrochloride — given as an injection and kills Class 1 to 3 heartworm disease. Another drug approved by the FDA — midacloprid and moxidectin — is used to rid the dog of microfilariae in the bloodstream of the dog. Heartworm disease treatment isn’t cheap because of the multiple injections and visits to the veterinarian, nor is it easy on the dog. This is because it can be toxic, causing complications, such as blood clots in the lungs. As noted, for Class 4 heartworm disease, surgery is required and, even with intervention, it is frequently fatal.
Why is it important to use preventative care?
In Colorado, the prevalence of heartworm increased 67.5% between 2013 and 2017. Moreover, between 2014 and 2017, over 114,000 dogs were imported into the state from states with a higher prevalence of heartworm, such as New Mexico and Texas. Due to this increase in risk, it is necessary for your dog to receive heartworm preventative care.
Monthly heartworm preventative care also protects dogs against very common intestinal parasites that can also be transferred to humans, especially children.
Is preventative care really needed in Colorado?
The short and long of it is simple… No matter where you live, even in Colorado, you need to give your dog preventative care against heartworm. Not only does this show your dog that you care about it, but it can also save you costs in treatment, as well as pain and suffering for your dog. It may even save your dog’s life. You can’t put a price on that, so get your dog heartworm preventative care as scheduled by your vet.