Thursday, 24 September 2009
Heartworm: Keeping your dog healthy
Heartworm has the most debilitating effect on active dogs. The first sign of infection is coughing or breathlessness, particularly after exercise or at night. Severe weight loss and fainting may follow.
Infection can be determined by a simple blood test that most vets in Taiwan can perform, and it is highly recommended that your dog get tested annually whether he or she is on preventive medication or not. If a dog is infected, treatment is expensive, dangerous, and painful. It involves giving blood-thinning medication over a period of four weeks, with a parasite-killing and painful shot of a form of an arsenic-based compound two weeks into treatment, and your dog should be monitored closely at this time. The dose has to be carefully measured so as to kill the worm but not the dog. Your vet should do extensive tests to ensure that the dog's other organs can handle the aggressive treatment. There is also a danger that the worm might migrate into the lungs during this stage. Dogs who are successfully treated can develop serious, life-shortening health problems such as an enlarged heart and kidney disease.
To be on the safe side and keep your dog free of this crippling disease, a phrophylactic can be administered at regular periods. The usual drug of choice is Ivermectin, a relatively safe and highly effective medicine that is sold under the brand name Heartgard, but your vet may suggest one of the alternatives. Ivermectin needs to be given at least every six weeks, though the packaging will suggest every four. These drugs prevent heartworm infection in 90 percent of animals, which is why a yearly blood test is also required. Sheep-herding breeds can have a fatal reaction to Ivermectin; check with your vet if your dog is a collie, sheepdog, or the like, or a sheepdog mix. Also, a good vet will want to do a blood test for heartworm before providing the preventive.
It is also a good idea to keep your dog free of mosquito bites wherever possible. Heartworm can also effect cats, though rarely, but humans are not at risk. Take simple precautions, and you and your dog will be able to enjoy a happy, healthy life during your stay in Taiwan.
For more information about heartworm, its causes and treatment, visit