Preventive Treatment Options for Heartworms in Dogs

Keep your pet safe from these nasty parasites by choosing preventive medicine, which is safer and more effective than treatment after the fact.

According to the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, too many heartworms may cause the heart to malfunction, an especially morbid fact for small dogs. By: seannaber

The downfall of the economy is forcing many pet families to stop giving their dogs preventive medicines that are needed to help control certain medical conditions. This choice could be costly to pets — and could actually wind up costing pet families more money in the long run.

Preventative Heartworm Treatment for Puppies

The book Pets, Part of the Family suggests beginning treatment for your puppy when he is 6 to 8 weeks old, but before starting your puppy on any heartworm medication, have your veterinarian test him to see if he is already carrying heartworms.

If he does have them, the existing heartworms should be treated, as preventive medicines do not cure the disease. Giving preventives to dogs with adult heartworm infections can, in fact, be fatal.

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Treatment Options

Both preventive and treatment options are available. Since treatment can be not only expensive but also risky, many pet caretakers rightly choose prevention. Dogs must stay on a preventive year round, and yearly tests are highly recommended.

Note that “monthly” medications technically do not prevent heartworms for 30 days. Instead, the meds work in reverse, getting rid of the larvae your pet has obtained during the previous 30 days. Monthly preventives can also control other parasites.

3 of the Most Commonly Used Preventive Methods

  1. A twice-a-day injection (administered by a veterinarian) known as Proheart 6 that has been noted to sometimes trigger allergic reactions.
  2. Pills (plain or chewable) given on the same day of each month.
  3. Topical treatments that are dabbed on the skin between the shoulder blades.

Specific Heartworm Preventives for Your Dog

Medicines available for preventing heartworms include:

  • Heartgard and Heartgard Plus (ivermectin): These medicines rate high on the prevention scale.
  • Interceptor (milnemycin): This can be used as an alternative to Heartgard. It also helps control roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.
  • Sentinel (milbemycin and lufenuron): This controls heartworms and fleas.
  • Revolution (selamectin): This also offers flea protection.

Check out this quick video for more information about heartworm prevention for your pet:

To determine the right medicine for your pet, discuss options with your veterinarian. She should be able to offer a solution that will work for you and your dog.

How Dogs Contract Heartworms

The bite of 1 mosquito infected with heartworm larvae is all it takes.

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As the larvae make their way into a dog’s bloodstream, they develop into microfilaria (offspring) in about 4 months. Around 3 months later, these offspring become adult heartworms. They travel through the bloodstream to the right side of the dog’s heart. From there, it’s onto the lungs.

If both male and female heartworms exist, they can begin reproducing. This means that 1 little mosquito bite can lead to generations of heartworms living in the dog’s bloodstream. Adult worms can grow up to 12 inches long, living as long as 7 years, and 1 dog can accumulate up to 250 worms in his system.

According to the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, because heartworms live inside the dog’s heart, too many of them can cause the heart to malfunction. In small dogs, it takes just a few worms to cause major health problems.

The heartworm offspring will not be able to grow into adults unless they can spend some time inside the mosquito. The more times your dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the more worms he can possibly get.

Heartworm Life Cycle

Here is a chart from the American Heartworm Society that illustrates the life stages:

Having your veterinarian check your pet for heartworms on a yearly basis is vital. Discovering their presence is the first step in getting rid of them. Yearly checks could be the greatest gift you could ever give your dog — the gift of life.

Gayle Hickman

View posts by Gayle Hickman
Gayle Hickman has been researching and writing about pet behaviors since 2011. In addition to Petful, her articles have appeared on Reader's Digest, Yahoo Shine and WebVet, to name a few.

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