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Heartworm Prevention for Dogs: What You Need to Know

Heartworm Prevention for Dogs: What You Need to Know | BetterVet

As a pet parent, taking care of your furry friend begins with preventative health. One of the most important aspects of preventative health for dogs is starting heartworm prevention medication and ensuring annual heartworm blood testing is performed.

Treating heartworm disease in dogs can be a time-consuming, costly, and difficult road to recovery. That's why prevention is key! Below, learn more about preventing heartworm in dogs to keep your dog happy and healthy.

How Do Dogs Get Heartworms?

Dogs are the perfect host for heartworm, with heartworm larvae living in their bloodstream. These larvae, known as microfilariae, are transmitted to the mosquito when it bites a dog. The larvae in the mosquito then become infected, leaving the infected mosquito to bite another dog and thus, leading to heartworm disease.

These tiny parasites take several months to form into adult heartworms, eventually spreading throughout a dog's body. This is a slow process, which means many dogs can live with heartworm for a long time before showing any symptoms.

Preventing Heartworm in Dogs

Heartworm prevention in dogs starts with annual testing for heartworm infection. During your pet's annual wellness exam, your BetterVet veterinary doctor will ensure they are up to date with dog vaccinations and suggest annual heartworm infection testing. In-home pet blood tests are a great option for heartworm testing without having to remove your pet from their home.

Heartworm disease is an extremely serious and dangerous condition. As such, annual testing is necessary even for dogs who are already on preventative heartworm medications. In order for heartworm medication for dogs to be effective, every dose of the medication must be administered as prescribed. Even when used as directed, heartworm medications do not provide 100% protection against heartworm disease. 

Annual testing for heartworms is vital for early detection. Heartworm disease that is caught early is much more treatable than advanced stages of the disease. Testing is also important, as many dogs with early stages of heartworm disease may not exhibit any symptoms.

Heartworm Treatment for Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with heartworm disease, it's important to begin treatment promptly. Heartworm disease can worsen the longer a dog has been infected. Treating heartworm in dogs can be a lengthy and difficult process, which can often take months to treat. According to the American Heartworm Society, dogs with heartworm should first be treated with antibiotics as a pre-treatment.

After a round of antibiotics, a medication known as Melarsomine (in an injectable form) is used to treat heartworm disease in dogs. This medication is split into three injections, staggered over several months. Melarsomine is highly effective in most mild-to-moderate cases of heartworm disease. However, these injections may not be enough for dogs with severe cases of heartworm disease. Surgery may be required in these cases.

If your dog has been diagnosed with a severe case of heartworm, a quality-of-life consultation can be helpful to make them as comfortable as possible during treatment.

How to Prevent Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Heartworm prevention in dogs before the disease occurs is the best line of defense to protect your furry friend from this dangerous disease. Heartworm preventatives are available in monthly chewable pills or topical medications. In some cases, injections can also be used. (These are administered every 6 to 12 months.) All medications for preventative heartworm treatment for dogs are available by prescription only. 

Regardless of the type, all heartworm-preventative medications are given year-round to dogs. Although the risk for heartworm may be higher in the warmer months of the year, dogs must remain protected year-round.

It is very important that heartworm medications for dogs are given on time and correctly in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. During your pet's exam, your BetterVet veterinarian will discuss heartworm prevention options with you. Based on your pet's specific situation, they can help you to determine the best type of heartworm prevention medication for your dog.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can heartworms in dogs be detected immediately?

Heartworms can not be detected in dogs right away. It can take up to 6–7 months for a blood test to detect heartworm disease. This is because heartworms take several months to finish maturing into adult heartworms. Chances for more successful treatment are better when heartworms are detected early.

What are the early signs of heartworm disease in dogs?

Many dogs may not show any symptoms in the early stages of heartworm disease. However, some dogs may show early signs, which include fatigue after activity, weight loss, decreased appetite, and/or a mild, persistent cough. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, schedule a same-day or next-day visit with BetterVet promptly.

What other ways can I help prevent heartworm for my dog?

The most effective form of heartworm prevention in dogs is preventative medications. However, there are other ways to prevent heartworm disease in dogs, too. Since heartworms occur from mosquito bites, repelling bugs in your home and your yard can help reduce the risk of heartworms. Some pet owners choose to use pet-friendly insecticides to help reduce the number of mosquitos around their home.

If one pet in my household has heartworm, are the other pets at risk too?

Heartworms cannot be transmitted from one pet to another. Heartworms can only be transferred from a mosquito to an animal. Humans cannot get heartworm from being around a pet with the disease, either. It is important that all pets in your household are on proper preventative medications for heartworm disease.

How often should I give heartworm prevention to my dog?

Heartworm prevention for dogs is typically given on a monthly basis to prevent infection with heartworm larvae. It's important to give heartworm prevention to dogs year-round, especially in areas where mosquitoes are prevalent year-round, as mosquitoes are the primary carrier of heartworm larvae. The frequency of heartworm prevention may depend on the type of product used. It's important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best heartworm prevention schedule for your dog based on their individual needs and circumstances.

Protect Your Furry Friend from Heartworm

Protecting your furry friend from dangerous heartworm disease is easy with help from BetterVet. During your pet's annual exam, we'll help you select the best preventative medication for your dog and perform annual blood testing for heartworm. 

What are you waiting for? Make sure your furry friend is safe from pesky heartworms! Book a video consultation to speak with a BetterVet veterinary doctor today.

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