Heartworm is one of the deadliest types of parasites in pets. It can effect 30 different species of animals, including humans. Heartworm can effect dogs, cats, sea lions, wolves, ferrets, coyotes, and other animals. While no animal is 100% safe from heartworm, the infection is most common in dogs and cats.
Heartworm cases have been reported all over the United States, in breeds of all kinds. Pet’s can become infected with heartworm from mosquito bites. 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.
In the early stages of heartworm, there are no abnormal signs of infection. In mild cases, coughing is present. Once heartworm begins to advance, your pet may cough, he might be intolerant to exercise and you may hear abnormal lung sounds. In the most severe cases, your pet may have:
-Abnormal heart sounds (moderate to severe cases)
-Abnormal lung sounds (moderate to severe cases)
-Enlargement of the liver
-Exercise intolerance (moderate to severe cases)
-Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
-Temporary loss of consciousness
There are a number of conventional treatments for heartworm that are considered highly effective. There are also many natural treatments for canine heartworm that may be effective in the earliest stages of the infection. The goal for conventional treatments for heartworm is to kill all adult worms with an adulticide and all microfilariae with a microfilaricide. The American Heart worm Society offers the detailed treatment description below. Please read carefully.
Adult Heart worm Therapy (Adulticide Therapy)
There is currently one drug approved by the FDA for use in dogs for the elimination of adult heart worms. 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 heart worm treatment previously available. It is administered by deep intramuscular injection into the lumbar muscles. For complete information on the classification and treatment for heart worm 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 heart worms 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 heart worms. 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 heart worm 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 Heart worm Society
Natural Cures for Heart Worm
While treatments for heartworm should take place under the supervision of a veterinarian, some pets may be too old or too sick to undergo aggressive 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 heart worms are not regulated, so there is literally hundreds, if not thousands, of products on the market that claim to cure or prevent heart worms. 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.
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