April is a little over a month away, and in some areas, this is the beginning of a new mosquito season. It is true that in some parts of America, mosquito season lasts all year long and pet owners living in these regions must be extra careful. April is also National Heartworm Awareness Month. Though Pit Bulls and all of their variations is a very hearty breed, they are not immune to this possibly fatal disease.
Heartworm Disease is the Silent Killer
There are many pet owners that are familiar with Heartworm disease and its dangers. However, there are also plenty of pet parents who are not so familiar with the disease.
Heartworm disease is a very serious and life-threatening condition that can affect any dog and cat in America. The biggest issue with the disease is the fact that it is a silent killer.
There are some signs that will give you some indicators, but only if you know what to look for.
Awareness is Key to Catching This Disease Early
Heartworm disease is a life-threatening canine parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that affect dogs in all 48 of the contiguous states and Hawaii.
It is caused by foot-long worms (Heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected pets. This also causes severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body.
Even after the dog is treated, the effects of Heartworms will still have a lifelong effect on your dogs quality of life.
The Unusual Life Cycle of the Heartworm
The dog is a natural host for Heartworms, which means that Heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring.
Furthermore, the mosquito plays an essential role in the Heartworm life cycle. Adult female Heartworms living in an infected dog produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream.
When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it ingests these baby worms. The worms then develop and mature into “infective stage” larvae within 10 to 14 days. At this time, when the infected mosquito bites another dog, the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of its skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound.
What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease?
Here are a few of the symptoms that are possible signs that your dog has Heartworms.
Coughing is one of the first and earliest signs of Heartworms. However, it is important to keep in mind that your dog may not show any signs initially. This is why preventative measures are the most effective against this disease.
Fatigue is another symptom of the disease. If you find your Pit Bull more tired after even moderate exercise, this is a sign that they have Heartworms and worst yet, that it is progressing. If your dog was already coughing, it will become worse at this stage.
More Possible Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
Be on the lookout for your Pit Bull having difficulties breathing, as this is yet another sign of Heartworm disease. As I stated earlier, the disease attacks the heart as well as the lungs.
Another symptom of the disease is weight loss. As the disease progresses, it will begin to affect your pet’s appetite. So, if you start noticing your dog not wanting to eat or begins to eat much less, then you are looking at a possible symptom of the disease.
Any time you notice your pet has a swollen belly, it is cause for alarm. In this case, however, it could be the result of fluid buildup as a result of the disease. The disease is now at an advanced stage at this point. It is certainly time for a Veterinarian visit.
Signs Are There if You know What to Look for
Dogs with large numbers of Heartworms can develop sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse.
This is called Caval Syndrome and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine.
According to the American Heartworm Society, few dogs survive without prompt surgical removal of the Heartworm blockage.
How is it Diagnosed and is My Pet at Risk?
The American Heartworm Society states that there are numerous factors one must consider when assessing the risk to your pet. Even if Heartworms do not seem to be a problem in your local area, one should always be vigilant.
Your community may have a greater incidence of Heartworm disease than you realize or you may unknowingly travel with your pet to an area where Heartworms are more common. Heartworm disease is also spreading to more and more regions of the country each year.
All dogs should be tested annually for Heartworm infection. This can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care. In addition, one or more simple blood tests is enough to diagnose Heartworm disease.
How Important is Getting Your Dog Tested and Are There Preventative Measures?
It is important that you speak with your veterinarian in regards to the guidelines on testing and timing. Preventative measures are still the most effective way to combat the disease.
It is recommended that even if your dog is on Heartworm prevention year-round, you still need to have them tested. This is to ensure that the prevention program is working.
Heartworm medications are highly effective but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication or you are late giving it, you can leave your dog unprotected. Heartworm preventives are highly effective but not 100 percent effective. So, by all means, get your dog tested.
How Do You Treat Heartworm Disease?
No pet parent wants to hear that their dog has Heartworm disease. However, if you do, the prognosis is good. The American Heartworm Society states that most infected dogs can be successfully treated.
If your dog does test positive for Heartworm disease, here is what you should expect.
First, confirm the diagnosis. Once a dog tests positive on an antigen test, the diagnosis should be confirmed with an additional and different test. Because the treatment regimen for Heartworm is both expensive and complex, your veterinarian will want to be absolutely sure that treatment is necessary.
Steps of the Treatment and Follow Through
Second, restrict exercise. The normal physical activities must be restricted as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed because physical exertion increases the rate at which the Heartworms cause damage to the heart and lungs. The more severe the symptoms, the less activity your dog should have.
Third, stabilize your dog’s disease. You may need to administer therapy to your dog to stabilize him before treatment can begin. In severe cases of Heartworm disease or when a dog has another serious condition, the process can take several months.
Fourth, administer treatment. Once your veterinarian has determined your dog is stable and ready for Heartworm treatment, he or she will recommend a treatment protocol involving several steps.
The Final Steps to Save Your Dog’s Life
Lastly, further testing and preventative measures are keys to success. After 6 months of treatment, your veterinarian will perform a Heartworm test to confirm that all Heartworms are gone. To avoid the possibility of your dog contracting Heartworm disease again, you will want to administer Heartworm prevention year-round for the rest of his life.
I encourage you to have your dog tested, and if appropriate, begin a recommended preventative regimen.