Question of the week: What is heartworm?

Heartworm Lifecycle
Heartworm Lifecycle (via Trifexis.com)

Heartworm disease is a nasty but very preventable condition. Thankfully we see fewer cases here in the Bay Area than places like Texas and other southern states where it is more prevalent. That said, heartworm disease may be present wherever there are mosquitos and those are found just about all over the United States. Campus Veterinary Clinic advises heatworm prevention as a precautionary measure for many of our patients.

So what are heartworms? Otherwise know as Dirofilaria immitis, these nasty parasites as previously mentioned are transmitted by mosquitos. When infected, dogs may fail to present with any symptoms for years, at which time the worms can reach up to 30cms and number up to 300. They are also capable of living up to 5 years. Did we mention they are nasty?

The worms really start to cause problems when they start migrating towards the heart and lungs via the blood stream. In terms of symptoms, you can expect to see lethargy and a dry persistent cough. In more advanced cases there have been instances of congestive heart failure and death.

Veterinarians typically treat with a medicine called Immiticide. At the time of this writing, this drug is not available due to manufacturing problems. Essentially, this means we currently don’t have a treatment for heartworms. This makes it even more vital that your dog is protected. This drug kills the heartworms after which they are reabsorbed by the body. The treatment lasts several weeks and keeping the dog calm and rested is of utmost importance. Once the course of treatment is completed, a simple blood test should reveal whether the dog is negative for heartworm.

Of course, the best scenario is to never have to treat a heartworm infection at all. If it is determined that your dog has not been exposed to heartworm, you can consult with your veterinarian as to what is the best preventative to use. There are a number of options out there and we at Campus Veterinary Clinic most often prescribe a drug called Trifexis. This monthly tablet combines spinosad  (Comfortis) and milbemycin oxime (Sentinel). While working as a preventative for heartworm, it additionally serves as a flea preventative. Our doctors and staff are always happy to talk with you as to what the best options are for your dog. Please call us anytime during business hours for more information.