April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Dogs are a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside a dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect a dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, heartworm prevention for dogs is by far the best option, and treatment—when needed—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.
In honor of National Heartworm Awareness Month, the HHS Animal Wellness Clinic is offering to add a free heartworm test at your dog's next clinic visit with the purchase of a 12 month supply of heartworm prevention (of any brand) during the month of April. If your pet tests positive for heartworms, our staff is available to discuss life-saving treatment options. Our clinic follows the treatment standards set forth by the American Heartworm Society, and we are here to help every step of the way.
What happens if my dog tests positive for heartworms? No one wants to hear that their dog has heartworm disease, but the good news is that most infected dogs can be successfully treated. The goal is to first stabilize your dog if he is showing signs of disease, then kill all adult and immature worms while keeping the side effects of treatment to a minimum. HHS Animal Wellness Clinic staff are available to help walk you through the treatment process and answer any questions you may have.
Here's what you should expect if your dog tests positive:
- Confirm heartworm status. A heartworm test is necessary to determine if your dog is positive or negative. It is recommended you heartworm test your pet every 12 months (and stay on a monthly preventative throughout the year.)
- Restrict exercise. This requirement might be difficult to adhere to, especially if your dog is accustomed to being active. But your dog’s normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, because physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. The more severe the symptoms, the less activity your dog should have.
- Stabilize your dog's disease. Before actual heartworm treatment can begin, your dog’s condition may need to be stabilized with appropriate therapy. In severe cases of heartworm disease, or when a dog has another serious condition, the process can take several months.
- Administer treatment. Once an HHS veterinarian has determined your dog is stable and ready for heartworm treatment, he or she will recommend a treatment protocol involving several steps. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease, such as cough or exercise intolerance, have a high success rate with treatment. More severe disease can also be successfully treated, but the possibility of complications is greater. The severity of heartworm disease does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms, and dogs with many worms may have few or no symptoms early in the course of the disease.
- Test (and prevent) for success. Approximately 6 months after treatment is completed, our vet team will perform a heartworm test to confirm that all heartworms have been eliminated. To avoid the possibility of your dog contracting heartworm disease again, you will want to administer heartworm prevention year-round for the rest of his life.