While pet owners routinely go through the same heartworm protocol every year, some do not fully understand what it is exactly they are treating – and why. Here is an overview.

Heartworms are large roundworms that live in the heart and the blood vessels that supply the lungs, surviving on nutrients, which they steal from the dog’s bloodstream.

They can grow to a length of 15-30 centimetres, and in severe cases, a dog may be infested with hundreds of worms.

Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes – once they bite into your dog, immature worms will be injected into the bloodstream, and will work their way to your dog’s heart. Eventually, this can lead to damage to the heart, lungs and liver.

..contrary to popular belief, this is not the heartworm in question

Early detection is difficult if you are looking only for symptoms. By the time your dog is noticeable symptomatic, the disease will have progressed to the point of doing damage to the internal organs.

Prevention is very important with heartworm. Speak to your Veterinarian about a simple heartworm test, which will measure the presence of parasites in the blood.

Heartworm medication is a somewhat controversial subject. How dangerous are heartworm medications? What are their side effects? Are they effective?

For a dog already testing positive for heartworm, the treatment involves a series of injections to kill the adult worms.

Preventative treatment involves monthly dosages of heartworm medication, coming in liquid, pill, and forms of injection.

Treatment of heartworms is still somewhat risky, but it is much safer today than it was years ago, when treatment involved the use of a medication containing arsenic, which had many severe side effects, including liver failure and in some cases, death.

In the recent past, relatively safer less risky medicines are available;  melarsomine dihydrochloride, which kills adult and immature heartworms and does not have as many side effects as the previous medicine. However, there is still some risk involved: lethargy, lack of appetite, saliva, increased heart rate, and retching can occur with this new drug.

There are also many natural remedies for heartworm prevention.

Herbs which have anti-parasitic properties include Geranium (usually administered externally in the form of Geranium Oil), Garlic, Black Walnut, Artemisia, Wormwood, Clove Flower Buds, Ginger Root, Turmeric, Spearmint, Hawthorn Berry, Capsicum, Lavender and Tea Tree (the latter two also administered externally in the form of Lavender Oil and Tea Tree Oil).

It is always best to speak to your Veterinarian about heartworm, but if you prefer the natural route, it may be worthwhile consulting a Naturopathic Veterinarian.

I hope that this information gives you a better understanding of heartworm and the issues surrounding it.

Information, knowledge and understanding are invaluable when making decisions for your pack, ensuring they live a long, happy and healthy life.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Rakka