“Speaking from the heart” is a good thing. “Warming the cockles of your heart” is a good thing. Heartworms – not a good thing.
It happened recently to Oakley, a retired racing Greyhound being rehomed through GPA Indianapolis. Like many with the disease, Oakley had no symptoms before he turned up positive on a routine heartworm test. He’s now off the adoption page and going through the first part of his treatment -- a grueling four-week course of antibiotics that are not agreeing with him. His foster mom is dealing with frequent diarrhea as well as the challenge of keeping him quiet, an important part of the treatment.
Heartworm is dangerous but it is preventable. For a few bucks a week, you can get a chewable monthly preventative from your vet that keeps the nasties at bay. You can also buy generic ivermectin from feed or farm stores (or even online at Amazon) for mere pennies a dose. You can use a syringe to measure the dose (.3ml for the average Greyhound) and inject it into a piece of bread or bagel. Compare that to treatment costs that can be upward of $1,000 in some areas.
While the good news is that heartworm is preventable, the bad news is not just that treatment is rough on the dogs, but that all 50 states – yes, even previously heartworm-free states like Arizona and Oregon – are now reporting cases. And all it takes is the bite of just one mosquito infected with the parasite's larvae.
How does the cycle work? Once a dog is bitten by the mosquito infected with heartworm larvae, it takes about seven months for adult worms to develop. They congregate in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels and reproduce. It’s not a scenario for the squeamish. Adult worms can be as long as a foot and a dog can have as many as 250 in his system. Fortunately, they cannot be spread to other dogs or humans.
While in the early part of the disease, there are no symptoms, as more worms crowd the organs, most dogs will begin coughing. They can even have impeded blood flow to the brain and, if left untreated, the dog will die. Dogs can also die during treatment. As the worms die, they break into pieces that can cause deadly blockages (which is why the need to be kept quiet during treatment).
The American Heartworm Society and most vets now recommend keeping your dogs on preventatives year-round. The bottom line? Protect your dog. Heartbreak happens. Heartworms don’t have to.