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Heartworms

Detecting Heartworms Can Be Difficult In The Initial Stages As Many Dogs Show No Symptoms

 
   

Dirofilaria immitis (heartworms) are one of the most insidious and deadly worms. Heartworms can infect many species, including cats and humans, but dogs are particularly susceptible.

Heart worms are introduced into the host through mosquitoes that are infected with heartworm larvae. Once a mosquitoe has biten the dog the larvae take 6 - 7 months to develop into sexually mature male or female worms. Even as immature adults they can begin to reproduce and the females release microfilariae into the bloodstream. Microfilariae are a prelarval stage of heartworms (pronounced: micro fil ar ee).

This is how the life cycle continues. At this point if the dog were to be bitten by a mosquitoe the mosquitoe would become infected with microfilariae in the blood. That mosquitoe could then go on to infect another animal.

Dr.I. H. Kathio - www.kathio.com

Heartworm Microscopic View
43 sec (Turn sound down)

Heartworms take about a year to become fully mature adults. Males grow to 4 - 6 inches while females get to be 10 - 12 inches long.

Detecting the presence of heartworms can be difficult in the initial stages as many dogs show no symptoms. This is more true of dog breeds that are less active. This is because the heartworm works its way into the lower lungs and eventually the right ventricle of the heart.

Since Australian Shepherds are so active changes caused by heartworms to the functioning of lungs and heart will show up sooner and with fewer worms present than in more sedentary breeds.

As the infestation progresses symptoms will escalate, beginning with a cough then greater intolerance for exercise with unusual sounds from the lungs and difficulty breathing. Temporary loss of consciousness can occur as the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted.

Enlargement of the liver, fluid build up in the abdomen and unusual heart sounds are some of the less obvious symptoms that can occur.

Unless treated a heartworm infection can lead to eventual death, usually from heart failure. If heartworms make their way into the caudal vena cava, a large vein between the liver and the heart, sudden collapse and death due to Liver Failure Syndrome can result within two or three days. Surgical intervention to remove the worms is required in this situation.

Fortunately treatment for heartworm is most often successful. Treatments are designed to eliminate both the adult worms and the prelarval microfilariae. A far better and more economical approach to dealing with heartworm is prevention.

Consult with your vet to determine the best approach and to develop an effective schedule.

Ivermectin WARNING

Australian Shepherds can have drug sensitivities as they frequently have a mutation of the MDR1 (Multi Drug Resistance 1) gene. This commonly causes toxicity from ivermectin an ingredient found in heartworm medications. It is always advisable to consult with your veterinarian before giving your Aussie any medications. Even over-the-counter medications can be toxic due to this increased sensitivity.

More information about Ivermectin and
other drugs that can be dangerous
for Australian Shepherds here.

 
Dr. Andrew Jones
Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM

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