Heartworm in dogs and cats

Our “Pet of the Week” is going to be “Rider.”   He is a very sweet Heeler mix that’s a little shy until you spend some time talking to him.  Once he gets to know you a little bit, you become his best friend.  Rider just wants to be loved and by the way, he thinks a belly rub is pretty fantastic. Rider’s adoption fee has been discounted by $15 thanks to our wonderful “Animal Angels.”

Our “Pet of the Week” is going to be “Rider.” He is a very sweet Heeler mix that’s a little shy until you spend some time talking to him. Once he gets to know you a little bit, you become his best friend. Rider just wants to be loved and by the way, he thinks a belly rub is pretty fantastic. Rider’s adoption fee has been discounted by $15 thanks to our wonderful “Animal Angels.”

There was a time when only residents residing in southern climates had to worry about their animals getting heartworm. Unfortunately it has now a global issue and we should all be concerned.

Dogs are primarily associated with this disease, but domesticated cats, coyotes, sea lions and foxes are also susceptible to it.

Before I go on to explain exactly what this disease is and what it can do to our animals I'd like to share the fact that this disease can be prevented.

Mosquitoes contract the disease by taking blood from an infected animal. Your animal contracts this disease from the bite of the mosquito that has been infected with the disease. It enters the animal through the mosquito bite wound.

Heartworm is transmitted by over 70 varieties of mosquitoes so this is something we need to be concerned about as pet owners.

Are you willing to take the chance that your pet will never be bitten? Hopefully not after you read what can happen to your pet. This is a serious disease and we need to protect our pets.

Once you agree to the heartworm test that your vet offers, blood will be drawn to see if the parasite is present. There may be other testing that your vet chooses to do also.

If there is no presence of the parasite, it's as simple as your pet getting regular dosing with a preventative medication.

This prevention kills the heartworms before they get a chance to mature. If they are unable to mature, they won't be able to clog your pet's blood vessels and heart.

On the other hand, if the parasite is present you will need to begin the regimen of treatment immediately. Time is of the essence with this disease.

Treatment of an infected animal can be very lengthy and costly. Wouldn't it be better to agree to the test and give your animal the preventative medications than take a chance that he will never get heartworm?

Heartworm is a serious disease and can be fatal. This condition is caused by parasitic worms living inside your pet in the arteries, lungs and at times in the right side of the heart.

People often don't understand what heartworm can do inside an animal. To help increase public awareness, veterinary clinics may have a jar displaying a preserved heart infected with heartworm on display.

When I walked in my vet's office and saw the heartworm example it absolutely mortified me. All I could think about was those dreadful looking worms growing inside one of my pets.

In a glass jar on the counter was a preserved heart with what looked like hundreds of pieces of long discolored spaghetti entwining and coming out of it. It sounds disgusting, because it was absolutely disgusting.

These worms can grow up to 14 inches in length, so I was exaggerating at all. The sight was atrocious to say the least; even writing about it is pretty disturbing.

Adult worms live inside the lungs and heart. They have microscopic offspring called microfilaria which are in the bloodstream which lead to your pet's heart.

After the worms enter the heart, they grow and cause considerable damage to the animals' heart.

An adult heartworm is large in size and is called a Dirofilaria. These worms live in the heart and pulmonary arteries.

These worms swim into an artery and are nourished and even massaged by the blood flowing past it.

Just by being in the heart, the worm generates an intense inflammatory response and a propensity for irregular blood clotting.

When there are enough worms present the heart must work overtime to pump blood through the worm infested arteries.

In a heavy infestation of worms they begin to back up into the right ventricle, which pumps blood to the heart.

The more worms present, the more they continue to consume the heart and other areas. Needless to say this causes extreme stress on the heart and also less blood being pumped.

At the time 50 worms or more are present, it means the ventricle is full and the chamber of the heart that receives the blood (atrium) begins to also contain worms.

When the number reaches over 100, it means that the entire right side of the heart is filled with worms. At that point there is very little room for blood to be pumped.

When worms consume the heart it is called "Caval Syndrome" and at that point most dogs can't survive even with treatment. The growing worms have restricted the blood flow and it causes permanent heart damage.

Unfortunately until the disease is in the advanced stages there are no symptoms. Before the severe symptoms appear, without a test you won't know if heartworm is present.

If the disease has progressed the signs are:

Congestive heart failure

Enlarged abdomen

Lack of energy

Coughing

Problems breathing

Dull coat

When these signs appear your animal has probably suffered irreversible damage. It is possible for death to occur within 72 hours at this stage of the illness.

Just remember when these worms are present in the body, during treatment they have to come out of the animal. Trust your vet to provide the best treatment possible.

The disease and the treatment are complex when it comes to heartworm. If you would like more information, please do some research on the disease. Your vet would also be able to provide you with additional information.

The good news with heartworm is all but the most severe cases can be successfully treated in dogs.

Unfortunately at this time the studies show that there are no products in the U.S. approved for the treatment of heartworm in our feline friends. I hope that has changed since these studies have been done.

Please don't make your best friend go through this terrible ordeal. If you haven't seen the display of heartworm at the vet, ask to see it. That might be just what you need to understand how dangerous heartworm is.

The next time you have your "furry best friend" in for a check-up, say yes to the heartworm test and yes to the prevention.

Don't forget if your pet is sick and you are financially challenged at that time, stop in VVHS, located at 1502 W. Mingus and fill out an application for vet assistance. VVHS will pay the amount of the office call for you. All it takes is about ten minutes of your time and you will leave with a check made out to the veterinarian of your choice.

In closing I'd like to update you on our $10.00 Crusade. As you know for every $10 donated to VVHS, a $10 replica is hung on the walls of our front office.

Have you been in? If not you need to come in and see this wonderful sight. Our walls are full and the donations continue to arrive daily. If you haven't donated to help us build our new facility, please help us today.

We'd like to extend our most gracious thanks to all of you that have helped so far. With your help the animals of the Verde Valley will get the much needed new facility that they genuinely deserve.

When it comes to donations, I'd like to share this experience with you. I was asked to be at American Heritage Academy this morning to visit Mrs. Latham's fourth grade class. These children decided to take up a collection for the animals after visiting the shelter.

I have to say that I was shocked when I heard the amount of their donation to VVHS. This one small group of dedicated children brought in over $500 for the animals of the Verde Valley.

These children are absolutely amazing, just like their teacher. There are no words to thank them enough for what they have done.

This morning they asked questions about the animals they saw during their visit. Amazingly they even remembered the names of the animals they played with. What an amazing group of tomorrow's leaders.

What a surprise it was to receive that much money from one class. Their $10.00 bills will be added to our "walls of fame" today. I'm so proud of the way they believed in the animals and made sure that they made a difference in the community.

You can go to our Web site at vvhs.net and it will take you directly to the donate area. Pay Pal is available to make your donation even easier to contribute.

Please find the generosity in your heart to help us on our mission. You can also mail your checks to:

VVHS Building Fund

P.O. Box 1429

Cottonwood, AZ 86326

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