SOMERS, N.Y. -- A case of canine heartworm was recently discovered by Dr. Martin Randell of the Somers Animal Hospital during a pets routine checkup. Heartworm is one of the worst pet diseases, usually affecting dogs but sometimes cats as well. It is spread by mosquitoes and takes a long time to make itself obvious.
Heartworm is just what it sounds like worms in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries, Randell said. A mosquito bites a dog and the larvae get into the bloodstream. It takes six months for them to migrate to the heart. The female worm is 12 inches long, the male is nine inches.
The initial symptoms of heartworm are coughing and/or wheezing, according to the vet.
Its more common in areas where mosquitoes are more prevalent, like in the south, Randell said. But we may be seeing more of it now because more dogs caught in crises like Katrina are being sent north by rescue organizations. If left untreated the end result can be heart failure.
Randell said that the case he recently diagnosed is the first one hes seen in several years.
The dog had no symptoms. It came in for a checkup and the problem showed up in the blood work, Randell said.
Treatment includes a series of injections and other medications. Sometimes antibiotics are administered and sometimes low-dose aspirin is given. Short leash walks are also recommended. An additional treatment is a topical solution such as Revolution, which is easily applied to the skin between the shoulder blades and is easy to administer to cats.
Randell pointed out that heartworms are different from intestinal parasites that are treated, killed and pass out of the body in the feces. Heart worms live in a closed system so when they die they cause blood clots and inflammation in the lungs.
The best weapons against heartworm are prevention and annual checkups for both dogs and cats. The preventive option is usually an ivermectin-based medication, such as Heartgard or Iverhart. It is usually given in a chewable form on a monthly basis.
Annual checkups by a veterinarian will ordinarily disclose symptoms. The disease can be treated once it is detected but it is important to discover the problem before it is too late.
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