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Heartworm in Dogs: Causes, Prevention and Treatment


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Learning your dog has heartworm can be awfully frightening; after all, the disease affects dogs in all 50 states as well as internationally, and is very difficult to treat. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent your dog from getting a heartworm infestation.

According to WebMD, the only way for a dog to get heartworm is to be bitten by a mosquito infested with heartworm larvae. The disease is most endemic in tropical regions like the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, where the likelihood of a dog getting heartworm is almost at 100 percent, but it has also survived in desert states such as California and Arizona, where irrigation systems allow the infestation to thrive. Once a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, it takes about seven months for adult heartworms to form. Growing up to 12 inches long, the worms start in the heart and make their way into the lungs and surrounding blood vessels. A dog can have as many as 250 worms, which can live up to seven years in the dog’s system. Sounds scary, right?

Thankfully, heartworm can be prevented through a veterinary-administered prophylaxis medication. The medication can also turn a mild to moderate case of heartworm into a nearly invisible one, while dogs with more severe cases may suffer from lung complications due to the strength of the medication. Humans cannot contract heartworm from their dogs; the only way anyone can get heartworm is from direct contact with an infected mosquito.

Heartworm takes the form of three classes: Class I, which is so mild that there are little to no visible symptoms, Class II, which is indicated by coughing and an aversion to exercise, and the most severe, Class III, defined as symptoms of anemia, inability to exercise, fainting and in the worst cases, right-sided chronic heart failure. Symptoms such as high blood pressure, difficulty breathing and rapid heartbeat may be revealed during a physical examination and are especially associated with Class III.

Treatment of heartworm is as follows: The veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic to kill the heartworm’s bacterium—Wolbachia—which causes inflammation in the body. Veterinarians may also prescribe a preventative medication to kill heartworm larvae before the adult heartworm treatment. Once the courses of these medications have been completed, an injection to kill the worms will be administered over a course of 60 days. The infected dog must stay in the hospital during injection days for observation of its reaction to the treatment. The dog’s activity level must be kept at a minimum during and several weeks after treatment since too much movement increases blood flow to blocked areas, causing discomfort for the dog and increasing the likelihood of complications. Dogs should be tested again after six months to ensure that there are no remaining heartworm larvae.

While prevention is certainly the highest defense against the horrors of heartworm, the treatment outlined above can be perfectly successful for clearing up an infestation, especially if the case is mild. While a dog can also recover from severe cases of heartworm, the disease will also bring with it a higher risk of complications and even death. Overall, awareness of the disease and how to prevent it is the most powerful tool when it comes to keeping your dog from becoming another statistic.

Brachycephalic Dogs: The Truth About Those Adorable, Pushed-In Little Noses


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The first thing you probably notice when you see a pug, boxer, or bulldog is that cute, wrinkly, smooshed-in face (Who can resist those velvety folds?). But underneath those wrinkles is a medical condition to be aware of, which can negatively impact a dog’s quality of life. If you have a dog or are thinking about getting a dog with a “snub nose,” here’s what you need to know in order to keep him as comfortable and healthy as possible.

Breeds with flat noses have a condition called “brachycephalic syndrome.” The term brachycephalic refers to a broad, short skull shape that gives certain breeds a distinct snub-nosed appearance. While it’s typically easy to spot a brachycephalic dog based on physical appearance, there are varying degrees of severity. Here is a complete list of brachycephalic breeds:

Because Brachycephalic dogs have a structural narrowing at the nostrils, the back of the throat, and in the windpipe, most dogs with the condition prefer to breathe through their mouths due to the increased airway resistance in their noses. Mildly affected dogs will breathe noisily, snort when excited and snore while sleeping. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your pup may become distressed, especially after exercise or in warmer temperatures. On very hot days, brachycephalic dogs run a high risk of heat stroke because of their difficulty regulating body temperature.

In addition to breathing loudly, snorting, and snoring, there are a few other signs of distress to watch out for, including retching or gagging, especially while swallowing, which indicates an elongated soft palate and is a sign of trouble. Dogs with elongated soft palates often prefer to sleep on their backs because it makes breathing easier. Watch out for blue gums, blue tongue or fainting after exercise; in extreme cases, this can indicate lack of oxygen in your pup’s blood. Take a look at your dog’s nostrils, too – do they look normal, or do they appear to be pinched closed? Nostrils that are closed too far to allow for proper air flow are a part of the brachycephalic syndrome, and are called “stenotic nares.” While this condition is present from birth, it may not affect your dog until later in life, so even if your dog does not currently show symptoms, it’s important to continue to monitor your brachycephalic dog closely.

Treatment Options

  • Check in with your vet regularly and keep tabs on the condition. Not all dogs require surgery to be comfortable, but many benefit from corrective procedures if preventative measures are not enough to provide your pup relief.
  • Learn what’s normal for your pooch. Once you figure out which snorts and snores are status quo, you’ll know immediately when you hear troubling breathing sounds or a new type of snorting that it’s time to visit your vet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your pup. Obesity can make breathing problems worse.
  • Always regulate your dog’s temperature and exercise, especially during the summer months. As mentioned, hot and humid weather increases a brachycephalic dog’s risk of heat stroke, so make sure he stays cool.
  •  Consider using a harness instead of a collar. A collar can pull on your dog’s larynx, making breathing even more difficult.
  • Sometimes, surgery is necessary to allow your dog to breathe normally and improve his quality of life. The soft palate can be surgically trimmed shorter, stenotic nares can be widened, and both are simple, minimally invasive procedures.
  •  Lastly, consider spaying or neutering. Since this condition is inherited, it’s a good idea to avoid breeding a dog that suffers from severe brachycephalic syndrome. Use your vet as a resource, stay informed on new treatment options and do your part to keep your wrinkly-faced pooch safe.