April is National Heartworm Awareness month, but not every dog owner is well versed in the potentially deadly parasite. It’s only transmitted by mosquitos, which pick up larval heartworms — called microfilaria — circulating in the bloodstream of an infected animal. Dogs with heartworm can be treated, but the best approach to the parasite is prevention.
We recommend year-round preventative medication for both dogs and cats
The number one thing you can do to prevent heart disease is to give heartworm preventive medications to your dogs and cats. While the prevalence of heartworm historically has been high in the south, the American Heartworm Society reports that it’s on the rise throughout the U.S. This increase includes regions that were once considered “non-endemic.” Especially when you live in an area where heartworm is prominent, you need to talk to your veterinarian about preventative medication for your pet.
Heartworm disease can cause lasting damage to the heart and lungs, which can affect a pet’s health and quality of life.
Heartworms mature after six months and can live in your dog’s body for seven years, constantly producing offspring. After about a year, a dog may harbor hundreds of these worms, although the average is 15. Cats typically have fewer worms, and they don’t live as long, but they can still cause damage and death. The worms cause inflammation and damage to the heart, arteries, and lungs.
Heartworm preventative medication can only be obtained from your veterinarian so start the conversation early. There are many different preventatives available, some that are chewable, some that are topical, and some are injectable. Some also prevent other parasites. Talk to your veterinarian about which preventative is right for you and your pet.
Certain heartworm preventative medications can protect against other parasites.
Again, certain preventatives can protect against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, fleas, and ticks. Your veterinarian will know the differences between the types of preventatives and can help you choose the right one.
The recommendation from the American Heartworm Society is to have all dogs tested for heartworm every 12 months, even those already on heartworm preventative medication.
No medication is 100% effective, and if your dog does get heartworms, we want to catch it in the early stages before they can do much damage. Have your veterinarian test your dog for heartworm during your annual visit. Annual testing is not needed for cats.
5th – Canine Cardiac Diseases
Knowing what health issues your dog is susceptible to gives you the chance to catch a malady early when you have ample time to modify it. When the issue concerns the heart, you can slow down the disease before it progresses to heart failure. Heightened awareness gives your dog a better quality of life, increased quantity of life, and minimizes the need for additional medication.
The two types of inherited heart disease veterinarians see most often in dogs are degenerative mitral valve disease (DMVD) and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Degenerative Mitral Valve Disease – often affects small breeds such as Cavalier King Charles, Dachshunds, and Miniature and Toy Poodles.
The incidence of degenerative mitral valve disease (DMVD) occurs more frequently in these breeds than any other. Fifty percent of Cavaliers develop a heart murmur, indicating onset of the disease, by age 5, and nearly 100 percent by age 10. With DMVD, a leaky mitral valve causes blood to go backward into the left atrium of the heart. (Usually this valve closes when the heart contracts and the blood moves forward into the body.)
Signs include: exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate and/or effort, and coughing.
Because the condition is inherited, we can’t do much to prevent it. But you can manage the effects of it with medication.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy – often affects large breeds such as Boxers and Dobermans.
Cardiomyopathy is defined as degeneration of the heart muscle. As a result of this degeneration, the muscle becomes thinner, particularly the thick muscle wall of the left ventricle. The pressure of the blood inside the heart causes these thin walls to stretch resulting in a much larger heart. This condition is described as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Signs include: Weakness, fainting spells, difficulty breathing, distension of the abdomen with fluid, and coughing are all possible in the later stages of disease.
Sick Sinus Syndrome – often affects Miniature Schnauzers
Sick sinus syndrome is a cardiac condition of unknown cause that affects the heart rate and rhythm of both humans and dogs. In this disease, the heart’s electrical impulse-generating sites (called sinuses) fail to function normally. As a result, dogs with this problem will be unable to maintain normal heart rates and many also suffer other changes in heart rhythm.
Signs include: weakness, exercise intolerance, collapse and fainting.
If you own or plan to adopt one of the breeds mentioned, you need to watch for symptoms they may exhibit that are common to heart disease. You should also take your dog for regular veterinary checkups, so a medical professional can also listen for clinical signs of changes in the heart.