Horrible Heartworms

By Dr. Karen Farnan, Veterinarian

When I was in Vet School I did a necropsy on a dog who was euthanized for severe heartworm disease. The sight of those worms is something that I have never forgotten. Big, white spaghetti-like worms filling up the heart and the major vessels so that barely any blood could squeeze through. It was truly a horrible thing to see! The worms are up to 14 inches long!

Heartworms are treatable, but that poor dog was too far along to be treated: coughing, labored breathing, barely able to walk. The treatment for the adult worms is expensive, lengthy, and has risks involved. That’s why heartworm prevention is so important, because we don’t want our own dogs to get even 1 heartworm.

Heartworms are common in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area in dogs that are not on a preventative treatment. The preventatives are safe as long as your dog doesn’t have heartworms before starting them (that’s why we test before prescribing them in dogs 6 months old or over). They also are easy, just a flavored pill every month. My dogs have always enjoyed them like a treat. If your dog doesn’t like the taste of the larger Heartgard brand, then ask us for Sentinel which is smaller and easier to hide in something, or stuff down their throat if necessary. If you are a little late on administering the pill one month, just go ahead and give it to you pet and go back to your regular schedule next month. They are safe, so don’t stress! Set up a reminder system that works for you, whether it is your smart phone or your paper calendar. 

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, a great reminder to give our beloved dogs their heartworm pills. Or even more important, start them on heartworm preventative medication if they are currently not being treated! Call us if you need a prescription today. It is our pleasure to serve you and your pets at Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital.

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