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Heartworm Disease - Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention:

Heartworm is a life-threatening disease of dogs caused by the presence of the adult stage of the parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, in the pulmonary arteries and right side of the heart.  Until the early 1970's, reported cases of Heartworm disease were primarily confined to the southeastern portion of the United States.  Today, heartworm disease has become a national epidemic as well as becoming very problematic in Canada as well. 

Although Heartworm disease occurs most commonly in dogs, it has also become increasingly problematic in cats.  In addition, wild animals such as coyotes, wolves and fox can also be carriers of Heartworm disease.  The vector that transmits Heartworm disease is the mosquito.  There are about 70 species of mosquitoes capable of transmitting the disease and unfortunately, we have plenty of mosquitos in this area.

An adult Heartworm is approximately 6-14 inches in length.  It is a thread-like worm, white in color, that once mature, prefers to reside in a dog's pulmonary arteries and right ventricle of the heart.  Their presence over time leads to severe inflammation and thickening of the arteries as well as gradual deterioration of function of the right side of the heart.  Eventually, heart failure ensues.

The clinical signs in a patient with Heartworm disease develop very slowly.  Oftentimes symptoms are not noticeable to the owner until a pet has been infected for 1 or more years.  A lack of energy and exercise intolerance are several of the early signs of trouble.  Chronic coughing as well as difficulty breathing are additional common symptoms.  As the disease gets progressively more severe, congestive heart failure (right-sided) and ascites become the life-threatening sequelae of the disease.  Collapse, fainting, weight loss, fever and abdominal distension are all symptoms of the disease process as well.  In cats, a cough, shortness of breath, and sometimes sudden death are all potential presentations for being infected with Heartworms as well. 

There is a treatment for Heartworm disease - an injectable arsenical based drug known as Melarsamine.  It is expensive and the treatment requires the pet to be caged confined, ideally for the duration of the multiple month therapy.  Therefore, these days, most veterinarians recommend year round Heartworm prevention.  The preventatives are inexpensive, easy to administer, typically once-monthly given oral or topically administered medications.  Its just way better not to take the chance.  Reno is no longer a "no risk" Heartworm haven.  And to ensure that patients on preventative remain disease free, at Damonte Ranch Animal Hospital, we recommend preventative maintenance testing every other year just to be sure there never is a "positive" case that sneaks through the cracks somehow accidentally. 

If you would like to learn more about Heartworm disease or wish to have your pet tested and started on preventative, please feel free to call the hospital for more information. 


"There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face." ~ Ben Williams

“The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog.” ~Ambrose Bierce