We are first-time dog owners and are a little uncertain of all the things we should be doing for our new 2 year old Cocker Spaniel. The veterinarian gave Gus vaccinations and checked him over at his initial visit, and mentioned heartworm medicine and testing. What is heartworm?
The heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a common cause of heart disease in dogs and can be fatal if untreated. Once a carrier mosquito infects a dog, the heartworm larvae make their way to the animal's heart and pulmonary arteries. There, they mature and grow up to 14 inches long. The adult worms produce microfilaria (new worms) which circulate in the bloodstream. Mosquitoes pick up these microfilaria during a blood meal. In the mosquito, they mature into larvae and are passed to another dog where a new cycle begins. Heartworms can cause severe damage to the heart, lungs, and other organs. Owners usually are unaware that their dog is infected until the disease is well advanced. Then, the animal may show such signs as fatigue, chronic cough, and loss of appetite. At this stage, prognosis is guarded despite the advances in treating the disease.
Gus first should have a simple blood test to make sure he is free of heartworms. If he is, you can begin giving him the preventative medication, usually starting in spring and continuing till 1 month past the end of mosquito season. The various preventive medications that are available are equally safe and effective. Your veterinarian can help you decide which one is best for Gus.