It is one of the most dreaded pet problems around. Your veterinarian has stressed the importance of preventing heartworms since the first time you took your pooch in for a checkup. Now, your pet is exhibiting the signs of a heartworm infection, and you don’t know what to do. You must realize that this is a serious matter, and it cannot be put off for another day. There are a few things you can expect once you arrive at the veterinarian’s office.

For whatever reason, your pooch was not put on a proper preventative program. Maybe he came to you already infected never having received adequate care, or perhaps you skipped several months of preventative and he was bitten by an infected mosquito. Worse yet, maybe your veterinarian told you that you have nothing to worry about because there are no mosquitoes around. But then, vacation rolled around and you took your unprotected pooch to a place where mosquitoes thrive. No matter what happened, you must understand the urgency of the situation. A heartworm-infected dog will not show signs or symptoms for about seven months after being bit by the mosquito. By this time, the worms have matured into adults, and this is when they are the deadliest. The symptoms of the disease progress, starting with a cough during exercise, fatigue, weight loss, loss of consciousness, and then coughing up blood. Eventually heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, or lung complications can follow. However, if the heartworms are detected and treated quickly, your dog will more than likely overcome the problem.

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, then take him to the veterinarian immediately. Even if they are not caused by a heartworm infection, they are serious warning signs and should be treated as an emergency. A blood test is usually performed to detect the presence of the female adult worm. If the heartworms are detected, your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your dog’s organs for any damage. The preferred method of treatment is a drug that is injected into the muscle in a series over the course of a couple of months. After the injection, your pooch must rest for several days or sometimes weeks. Rest is required to ensure that the dead worms do not block the blood vessels; exercise causes increased blood flow, heightening the risk for artery blockage.

Sometimes, preventative medication is used as a form of treatment. This is completely dependent upon the severity of the infection, because preventatives take much longer to kill the adult worms. In extreme cases, your dog may have to undergo surgery to remove the worms. The disease is categorized into four stages. If your pet reaches stage four (which is the most severe), surgery may be the only option. Aside from heartworm-specific surgery, a dog suffering the disease should not undergo any other type of surgery until the heartworms have been treated.

Six or seven months after the treatment, your veterinarian will require that your dog be tested again for heartworms. If tested before this period of time, the tests may produce positive results. This is nothing to fear, because the test is more than likely detecting the presence of the dead worms. If the worms are still present after seven months, then your veterinarian will recommend the next step in treatment.

Once the worms are gone, your vet will highly advise you to start a preventative program. The most common preventative medicines are given once a month. If your pet is bitten by a mosquito, the medication stops the development of the worms. Preventative medication should be given year round, whether or not you live in an area where mosquitoes are common.

Once you pooch gets a heartworm infection, you can expect a fairly long road to recovery. It is important that you are able to recognize the symptoms of a heartworm infection, and take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. Your vet can perform tests that detect the presence of the worms. Depending on the stage of the heartworms, your dog may be given preventative medication, several muscle injections, or he many have to undergo surgery. Once the worms are treated, then you should talk to your veterinarian about starting a preventative program.

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