Save your dog by recognizing heartworm symptoms

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Veterinarian with dog
If your pet seems to be short of breath, heartworm could be the culprit and it is imperative that your dog (or cat) be seen by a professional immediately
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Early detection of heartworm can mean the difference between life and death.

Dog owners know that protecting their pet against menaces like fleas and ticks is important, but there are even bigger threats to your pets' health to consider. One of these is heartworm, which can not only make your best friend sick, but can actually be fatal.

Symptoms of Heartworm

Symptoms of heartworm are a result of maturing heartworm larvae and adult heartworm in the heart, which cause irritation of the heart and blood vessel walls. This leads to blood thickening and blockage of blood flow. Heartworms can even lodge themselves in liver blood vessels, resulting in liver failure. Early detection can mean the difference between life and death, so it is important that every pet owner be aware of the following symptoms.

Please note: There are new studies which indicate heartworm can affect cats as well, although not as severely; so if your furry friend happens to be a feline, read on.

Mild cough this heartworm symptom appears before any other and is often overlooked by pet owners. Like humans, dogs and cats catch cold and a mild cough doesn't normally illicit concern. It's important for pet owners to take this symptom seriously and know that it could be the first sign of a critical illness.

Fatigue heartworm symptoms include fatigue. Dogs are known for their energy and playfulness. If your four-legged friend suddenly shows no interest in playing fetch or needs to lie down after climbing the stairs, chances are there might be a problem.

Breathing Difficulties an animal laboring for breath is a sign of serious illness. If your pet seems to be short of breath, is gasping or gulping for air, heartworm could be the culprit and it is imperative that your dog (or cat) be seen by a professional immediately.

Severe Coughing another indication of heartworm is a severe, deep-chested cough that doesn't go away. Some owners may confuse this symptom for Kennel Cough, a highly contagious, but less serious illness. If your pup's throat tickle goes from mild to severe, see your vet immediately.

Loss of Appetite most dogs will knock over their owners to get to their dinner. A dog with no appetite is a sick dog indeed. While tummy troubles or a busy day may cause your pooch to skip a meal or two and is no cause for concern, a lengthy period of disinterest should be taken seriously.

Weight loss just as a dog with no appetite should be a warning, so should a dog that seemingly eats enough but is still losing weight. Dogs should be healthy and robust and any deviation from this norm can be a sign of illness.

Jaundice unfortunately, if your pet is displaying this symptom and the cause is heartworm, the dog is extremely ill and will require immediate surgery to remove the worms. Jaundice occurs when the liver has been infected and turning back the clock on liver damage is a difficult endeavor.

Collapse the final symptom is collapse and usually means the animal has succumbed to his or her illness. By this point, it may be too late to save your pet. Bringing the animal to a vet and medicating them against pain or, as a last option, 'putting them out of their misery,' is part of being a caring and compassionate pet owner.

The good news is that heartworm can be prevented. The disease is carried from one animal to another by mosquitoes. The insects bite an infected dog and then bite an uninfected animal, injecting heartworm larvae under the skin. This larvae migrates to the heart of the dog and matures to adult heartworm. (Note: This trip normally takes about six months). Adult female heartworms produce live young, which circulate in the blood. A mosquito bites the animal and moves on to bite another, perpetuating the infectious cycle.

Prevention comes in the form of medication. First, a blood test must be done to ensure the animal hasn't already been infected. A positive test will require treatment to eliminate the worms. If the dog is heartworm-free, a prophylactic medication can be used to prevent heartworm infection. These pills are given during the mosquito season to help protect the animal against developing heartworm symptoms by destroying parasites.

In addition, pet owners should make sure that there are no areas in their yard or around their home in which mosquitoes can breed. All standing water should be dumped and boggy areas should routinely be disturbed to discourage mosquito breeding. The fewer mosquitoes in your pets' environment, the less chance he or she will have of developing heartworm symptoms.

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