Dog heartworm is a common disease among canines in Singapore. First discovered in 1856, the worms mainly live in a dog's heart and major blood vessels.
These worms can impair a dog's heart and lung operations and clog up a dog's blood vessels. When left untreated, such an infestation can result in body weight loss, chronic cough, dropsy, shortness of breath, chronic heart failure, vision disturbances, and ultimately, death.
Symptoms of heartworms
In the early stages of this disease, dogs may or may not show symptoms. Even so, symptoms may be very few or varied. It is only when the infection persists that more obvious or severe symptoms will develop. To help you spot some early symptoms of heartworm, we have compiled a list:
- Dogs that are usually quite active suddenly show reluctance to exercise or tire easily
- If your dog experiences difficulty in breathing, it is a likely symptom of heartworm
- A persistent, dry cough
- Weight loss
- You may notice that your dog's belly is swollen as a result of fluid accumulating in the abdomen
Since the symptoms of heartworm disease differ from one dog to the next, it would be best that you take your furry friend to visit a trusted vet as soon as you notice something off in his behaviour or health.
Which type of dog breeds are more likely to be infected by heartworm disease?
Previously, it was thought that longhaired dogs were more resistant to heartworms because of the greater difficulty in which mosquitoes (which are transmitters of these parasitic worms) can penetrate through the dog's hair to get to its skin. However, this has since been proven to be untrue as dogs of all breeds have little hair on their bellies, making this area the prime spot for mosquito bites.
Can heartworm infection be treated?
Heartworm infection can be treated through chemical therapy only if a dog has been diagnosed early. Once diagnosed, the infected dog is injected with melarsomine, a type of drug that kills adult worms in the heart and adjacent vessels. However, this treatment is administered in a series of injections over a stretch of time. During this period, it is crucial that the dog rest and not be allowed to exercise. As the worms die, decompose and break up, they are carried to the lungs, where they lodge in the blood vessels there and are finally absorbed by the body.
There are also some cases when surgery is needed. But of course, do consult with your vet for the best course of treatment upon diagnosis.
Can heartworm be prevented?
Heartworm disease can be prevented through the use of preventative medications that either prevent heartworms or protect pets from heartworms and parasites.
Do note that preventative medications can cause serious complications if your dog already has heartworm infections that are at a progressive stage. Always consult your vet to decide which preventive is best for your dog.
To lower the risk of Fido becoming infected with heartworm, you can also protect him from mosquito bites by avoiding being outside when mosquitoes are most active. Another thing you can do is to speak to your vet about choosing a dog-safe mosquito repellent which can be applied on your pet before heading outdoors.
All in all, symptoms of heartworm diseases may be difficult to spot, and when you do actually notice them, it is very likely that the disease has gotten quite serious. As such, it would be best to seek your vet for preventative measures and keep up with your dog's bi-annual check-up. Prevention is always better than cure! We hold our pets close to our hearts and definitely would loathe having to see our pets suffer.