If you live in a humid, warm climate, your dog is at risk for heartworm disease. If left untreated, a heartworm can be fatal for dogs. Fortunately, we have effective medications that kill the worms and keep dogs safe from contracting the disease again. Knowing whether or not your dog is at risk for heartworm disease is the first step to determining if he needs preventative medication. Not every veterinarian carries testing for it, but most general practices will give you a pamphlet with more information about it. Some veterinarians even offer it as part of their services onsite. If you choose to test and treat your dog for heartworm disease yourself, here are some helpful tips:
Can I Give My Dog Heartworm Medicine Without Testing?
For many pet owners, giving heartworm medication to their dogs without testing is a common practice. There are several reasons why this can be done. First, heartworm medications are expensive and the cost of testing for heartworm disease can be substantial. Also, the doctor may have told you that your dog is not at risk for heartworm disease and therefore you should not test.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease (HD) is caused by infection with a parasite called the heartworm or Dirofilaria immitis. The disease is spread to dogs through the bites of infected mosquitoes. This infection can be transmitted to humans, but this is very rare, and symptoms are similar to those of an ordinary mosquito bite.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Heartworm Disease?
- The dog has a low red blood cell count or a low amount of oxygen in the blood. The dog has fluid building up in the chest, abdomen, or around the lungs. The dog has a lung or chest infection. The dog has difficulty breathing.
- The dog has a fever, rash, or patchy hair loss. The dog has an enlarged heart. The dog is coughing up mucus.
- The dog has enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands). The dog has skin sores and it is not possible to tell if these sores are from a bacterial infection or from heartworm disease (HD).
- If the above symptoms are present, it is likely that your dog does have HD. If you suspect that your dog may have HD, you should talk to your veterinarian immediately about testing for the disease.
- If you test positive for heartworm disease, you should begin treatment as soon as possible.
- Heartworm disease can be treated with a medicine called ivermectin. This medicine is given by injection into the dog’s muscles. The dose required varies with the size of the dog and the type of heartworm disease that has been diagnosed. A heartworm test must be performed before this medicine can be given to your dog.
- It is important to note that not all dogs that are infected with heartworms will develop HD symptoms, even if they are tested positive for the disease (see below). Therefore, it is important to confirm that your dog does have HD with a blood test before starting treatment for the disease (see above). If you have any doubts about your dog’s diagnosis or treatment, please talk to your veterinarian immediately about testing for this dangerous condition.
- There is no cure for HD, but the disease can be treated with medications. Treatment of HD is very important because it will prevent your dog from developing adult heartworms and also reduce the risk that your dog will develop severe anemia (low red blood cell count).
- Your veterinarian must be consulted before you start treatment for heartworm disease. Only a veterinarian who has experience treating this disease should do this testing and treatment because a veterinarian that lacks experience in treating this type of infection could cause harm to your dog. If you don’t have a veterinarian that treats dogs with heartworm disease, please talk to your veterinarian about having one added to your insurance plan.
- Once your dog has been diagnosed with HD, you will need to continue treatment for the remainder of the dog’s life. A heartworm test must be done every three months during treatment to confirm that the medicine is working and to check for heartworms in your dog.
How To Administer The Medicine – Dos, And Don’ts.
- Always give heartworm-preventative medication with food. (Dogs are more likely to choke on the pill if it is given with dry food, rather than a meal.)
- Give your dog one dose of the medication every month for three months.
- Continue giving him the medication for at least six months after he has been cleared of heartworm disease by blood tests or removal of worms from his lungs and/or heart.
- Don’t give your dog a second dose after he has been cleared from heartworm disease by blood tests or the removal of worms from his lungs and/or heart.
- Don’t give your dog more than two doses in one year without discussing it with your veterinarian first!
- Don’t give your dog a preventative dose if he has been treated with heartworm medicine in the past two years.
- Do not give your dog an additional dose of medicine if he already has heartworm disease.
- Do not give your dog more than three doses per year.
- Make sure to keep the medication out of reach of children and pets, and do not allow them to lick or chew on the pill!
- Be sure to store the medication in a cool and dry place, such as a refrigerator or freezer, and do not let it sit out for too long before you use it!
- Keep track of your dog’s weight over time, even after his three-month treatment is complete; this will help you determine whether or not his body is able to clear the infection completely without extra medication over time and without any side effects!
If you live in an area where mosquitoes are active year-round, it’s best to test your dog for heartworm disease before treating him with preventative medication. Your vet will likely test your dog for heartworm disease and other common parasites. If your dog has heartworm disease, your vet will most likely recommend starting treatment right away. If your dog has heartworm disease, it’s important that you start treatment right away to help prevent further damage to your dog’s organs. There are several ways to prevent heartworm disease. One way is to have your dog take preventive medications every month from April through October when mosquitoes are most active. Another way is to have your dog wear a monthly heartworm-preventative collar.