What’s the deal with Heartworms?!

I mentioned in one of my last posts that Luna recently started treatment for heartworms. I know some people reading that DO have dogs, may be aware of what this is, but there are also a handful of dog parents and non dog people that have no clue. That would be the category I fell into right before I adopted Luna – aka I knew jack sh!t. Figured it was something you could give ’em a pill for and tah-dah all better! Negative. Since I wish I had known even a morsel of this information before having to go through the process with Luna, I wanted to share with those of you who may have dogs and not be aware because heartworm disease is 100% preventable!

 

What are Heartworms?

Heartworms are kind of gross so don’t google it unless you have the urge like me to look at it just because someone told you not to, but remember I warned you.

Just to give you all a deeper look into how this happens in the first place…it all starts with a mosquito bite. If this mosquito has bit an infected dog before, it will now be carrying a microfilariae that will eventually become an infective larvae that will transfer into your dog’s bloodstream when the next bite occurs. After that there is a 6-7 month time frame where the infective larvae will mature into adult heartworms. From there, the adult heartworms will mate and the female heartworms will release lil babies into your dog’s bloodstream. Delightful.

The worms don’t have a negative effect on the mosquito because they are just living in the mosquito for a short time frame to become infective (aka cause heartworm disease). Once the worms get to your dog, they are now a problem. You’ll hear these worms referred to as “heartworms” because the adult worms live in the organs of the infected animal (heart, lungs, and blood).  They can live inside your dogs organs for 5-7 years and basically look like thin spaghetti (like I said, don’t google it, especially if you love spaghetti because it’ll change your mind on eating that again). The worst part about all of this is that most of the time you’ll never know your dog is living with heartworms unless you’ve had them tested, or they are in a late stage of the disease where they are showing symptoms, which is almost too late to do anything about it other than invasive surgery.

Most of the time (I do not have a statistic), testing performed at your vet will accurately detect if there are 1+ female heartworms that are at least 7-8 months old, but the tests aren’t too good at detecting anything less than 5 months old. When I adopted Luna, she was negative and magically appeared positive when a test was done 6 months later. So the time frame checks out. Womp womp. I’d have never known either because she exhibited ZERO symptoms, meaning she probably doesn’t have that many worms up in there at the moment.

EW! Sooo how do you get rid of them?

Well, sadly the only way to truly rid your dog of heartworm disease is to go through a painful and slow process. There is an FDA approved drug called Immiticide containing arsenic that is injected into your dog’s back muscles. This drug will kill immature (4+ month old) and adult heartworms that are living in your dog’s heart or other organs. Its an expensive procedure (trust me on that one) due to necessary examinations and xrays and bloodwork that needs to be done prior to the injection. The injection also is expensive. So you are looking at a vet bill anywhere from $500-$1000 depending on your vet.

Another downer about this treatment is that you will need to keep your dog pretty calm and still for the duration of the treatment to avoid risk of pulmonary embolism or blockages. Not all vets administer the drug the same way, but from my experience they will give your dog the shot followed by 30 days of crate rest basically, nothing off leash.  Then your dog will get another shot and you repeat the 30 days of rest. If you have a hyper dog (like I do) I highly recommend investing in some Puzzle Toys to mentally stimulate your dog during this time of no exercise. I’ve learned that even a short training session can be as tiring for her as a 30 minute walk.

Prevention:

Thankfully, there is a way to prevent heartworm disease in your dog. You can get monthly preventative chews or a topical treatment to give your dog (we use Heartgard) that will prevent heartworm disease by killing all the baby larvae when a mosquito bites them. Literally all you have to do is give your dog the preventative on a monthly basis and routinely check in with your doctor to make sure they have not been reinfected. Technically, this preventative should be preventing your dog from being infected so if you do your job, it should too. These are slightly expensive but obviously worth it and costs us around $100-$150 every 6 months (I think) but depends on your dogs overall weight.

Sorry to be a debbie downer today with this post but I just feel so passionate about my doggy and for that matter all doggies! If you’ve learned ANYTHING from this post I hope that you at least take away from it the importance of giving your dog heartworm preventatives, because it seriously can save his/her life!!!!

If you have had a different experience and would like to share your story please feel free to leave a comment! I hope all of you who unfortunately have had to go through this have happy, healthy dogs to show for it 🙂

For more information and some extra light reading on Heartworm disease, check out the FDA’s explanation here.

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