At any given time, your pet could be infected with any number of parasitic worms. Just a few of the different types of parasitic worms include: the half-inch-long hookworm, the tapeworm – which can reach up to three feet long if left untreated, roundworm, whipworm, and heartworm. The good news is, most parasitic worms can be easily cured. The bad news is, heartworm is one of the toughest of all to cure and in many cases, this aggressive parasite can be fatal.
So, what exactly is heartworm? Heartworm is the deadliest type of parasite infections for dogs and cats. While heartworms is most common in dogs and cats, it can also affect more than 30 additional species of animals such as wolves, coyotes, ferrets, and sea lions. Unfortunately, heartworms can affect humans as well.
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While heartworms (also spelled “heart worms”) can affect other species and humans, dogs and cats are the parasites preferred hosts. It doesn’t matter where the pet lives either as heartworm can thrive just about anywhere. In fact, heartworm cases have been reported all over the United States, in breeds of all kinds. Heartworm is not specific to older or younger pets, male or female pets, urban or rural pets or well to do or average pets.
Pet’s can become infected with heartworm from insect bites, such as bites from a mosquito. When the mosquito bites the pet, the infection is transmitted through the dog or cat’s skin. The larvae develop in the body over a period of several months during which time they grow and migrate to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
Symptoms of heartworm
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·Abnormal heart sounds
·Abnormal lung sounds
·Enlargement of the liver
·Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
·Temporary loss of consciousness
In the earliest stages, there are no abnormal signs of infection. In mild cases, coughing is present. In the moderate stage, you may notice coughing, exercise intolerance and abnormal lung sounds. In the most severe cases, all of the above symptoms above may be present. If the infection is severe enough, it can cause death.
Conventional Treatments for Heartworm
There are many conventional treatments for heartworms that are highly effective. There are also many natural treatments for canine heartworms that may be effective in the early stages of heartworm infection. The goal for conventional treatments for canine heartworms is to kill all adult worms with an adulticide and all microfilariae with a microfilaricide. The American Heartworm Society offers the detailed treatment description below. Please read carefully.
Adult Heartworm Therapy (Adulticide Therapy)
There is currently one drug approved by the FDA for use in dogs for the elimination of adult heartworms. This drug is an organic arsenical compound. Dogs receiving this drug therapy will typically have had a thorough pretreatment evaluation of its condition and will then be hospitalized during the administration of the drug. Melarsomine dihydrochloride (Immiticide®, Merial) has demonstrated a higher level of effectiveness and safety than any other adult heartworm treatment previously available. It is administered by deep intramuscular injection into the lumbar muscles. For complete information on the classification and treatment for heartworm infected dogs using this product, consult your veterinarian.
The primary post-adulticide complication is the development of severe pulmonary thromboembolism. Pulmonary thromboembolism results from the obstruction of blood flow through pulmonary arteries due to the presence of dead heartworms and lesions in the arteries and capillaries of the lungs. If heartworm adulticide treatment is effective, some degree of pulmonary thromboembolism will occur.
When dead worms are numerous and arterial injury is severe, widespread obstruction of arteries can occur. Clinical signs most commonly observed include fever, cough, hemoptysis (blood in the sputum) and potentially sudden death. It is extremely important to not allow exercise in any pet being treated for heartworms. Often pets with severe infections will also require the administration of anti-inflammatory doses of corticosteroids.
Elimination of Microfilariae
The most effective drugs for this purpose are the macrocyclic lactone (ML) anthelmintics, i.e.,milbemycin oxime, selamectin, moxidectin and ivermectin. These drugs are the active ingredients in commonly used heartworm preventives. Although their usage as microfilaricides has not been approved by the FDA, they are widely used by veterinarians as there are no approved microfilaricidal drugs currently available. It is recommended that microfilariae positive dogs being treated with these macrocyclic lactones be hospitalized for at least eight hours following treatment for observation of possible adverse reactions, including those resulting from rapid death of the microfilariae.
Circulating microfilariae usually can be eliminated within a few weeks by the administration of the ML-type drugs mentioned above. Today however, the most widely used microfilaricidal treatment is to simply administer ML preventives as usual, and the microfilariae will be cleared slowly over a period of about six to nine months. – The American Heartworm Society
Natural Cures for Heartworm
While treatments for heartworms are best administered under a vets care, some pets may be too old or too sick to undergo rigorous treatments. They may be too old for preventative medications as well. Preventative care in the form of monthly tablets, chewables, or topicals includes: Ivermectin, Macrocyclic Lactone (ML), Milbemycin, Moxidectin, and Selamectin. Natural cures for heartworms are not regulated, so there is literally hundreds, if not thousands, of products on the market that claim to cure or prevent heartworms. It’s best to speak with your vet about alternative cures or contact the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to locate a holistic vet in your area.