Heartworm Prevention Montgomery County Veterinarian

With more and more rescue dogs being transported from the south, veterinarians are seeing a significant increase in the number of heartworm positive dogs in the greater Philadelphia area and suburbs.  Heartworm disease is exactly as it sounds, worms that live in your dog's heart.  These worms can do significant damage to your dog's heart and pulmonary vessels and carry inside them bacteria capable of causing allergic reactions when worms mature or die.  In the following article, I will discuss Heartworm disease in dogs as well as heartworm prevention and treatment.
Heartworms are spread by mosquitos.  The cycle originates when a mosquito ingests heartworm larvae during a blood meal from a host carrying the worms.  Under the correct conditions, the juvenile heartworms will undergo two molts inside the mosquito and become infectious larvae in about two weeks.  The mosquito then transmits these infectious juvenile heartworms to a new host through a blood meal.  Inside of a dog (or less commonly a cat), over the next few months, the heartworms will mature and travel from under the skin to the pulmonary arteries near the heart where they will ultimately become adult heartworms and begin to produce juveniles to perpetuate the cycle.
Heartworms inside of a dog can cause high blood pressure from damage to the walls of the pulmonary arteries, cardiac disease including heart failure and even kidney or liver damage.  Maturation of heartworms or the deterioration of dead worms can result in the release of bacteria called Wolbachia, which induces a powerful anti-inflammatory response inside of a host that can cause anaphylactic reactions or further damage to pulmonary vessels.
Damage from heartworm disease is not reversible but fortunately, is preventable.  Treatment of dogs who have heartworm disease centers around 3 core concepts: killing the bacteria inside of the heartworms, reducing the inflammatory response to these worms, and killing the worms themselves.  Powerful drugs are needed to kill adult heartworms and there are risks associated with treatment.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Nothing is truer than with Heartworm disease.  Fortunately, numerous preventatives are available by prescription through your veterinarian and patients should be kept on heartworm prevention to prevent infection.  Today's heartworm preventatives are very effective at preventing heartworm disease by killing juvenile stages of the worms but they do not kill adult worms.
It is strongly recommended that all dogs are tested for heartworm before starting prevention. A few drops of blood acquired by your veterinarian can detect the presence of antibodies to heartworms in under 10 minutes.  Once your dog tests negative, heartworm preventatives can be started safely.
To learn more about heartworm disease, have your dog tested for heartworm, or to start heartworm preventative, please call one of our offices to schedule an examination with a member of our veterinary team.  Heartworm disease is preventable and together we can keep your dog safe from the risks acquiring and treating this disease.


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