To Love and Protect

For heartworm preventives to work, you must give them on time, every time.

By Kyra Kirkwood | Posted: Wed Feb 4 00:00:00 PST 2004

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What are the Symptoms?
Once you see symptoms, the chance of successful treatment dips, Rubin says. "That's why prevention is so important." If you have your dog tested annually and you consistently give him a preventive, you have no worries. If not, watch for these symptoms:

Early infection: No clinical signs.
Mild disease: Cough.
Moderate disease: Cough, fatigue, and abnormal lung sounds.
Severe infection: All of the above, plus difficulty breathing, liver enlargement, loss of consciousness, fluid in the abdomen, and abnormal heart sounds.

How Is It Treated?
Immiticide, an adulticide administered via an injection series, kills adult worms in the dog's heart and lungs. Another class of drugs, an orally administered microfilaricide, kills microscopic, immature worms called microfilariae. When adult heartworms mate, microfilariae are released into the bloodstream.

Most dogs without symptoms will finish treatment without any significant problems caused by the passing of dead worms through the organs and blood vessels. But dogs with symptoms such as coughing or exercise intolerance may die from treatment. Left untreated, heartworm will kill your dog, depending on his age when he's first infected.

What To Do First
If you aren't giving your dog a heartworm preventive, ask your veterinarian to test your dog. This blood test checks for adult, female heartworms. Don't skip this test. Some preventives can cause potentially fatal reactions in already infected dogs.

Many veterinarians recommend routine, annual testing for dogs on preventives, as well. "It's a staple of our dogs' healthcare program," Strother says.

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