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Heartworms are parasites that look like spaghetti and can grow up to a length of 14" inside a dog's heart. As they grow they restrict blood flow in the heart and can cause permanent heart damage. By the time you start seeing symptoms of coughing, labored breathing and heart failure, the damage has already been done. At this advanced stage of heartworm disease death can occur within 72 hours.
Heartworms are transmitted by over 70 species of mosquitoes. Virtually all dogs are at risk, but especially those that live out in the country or spend a significant amount of time outdoors. Because of this we recommend all dogs be on a course of heartworm prevention. The preventative kills the heartworms before they mature, keeping the worms from clogging your dog's heart and blood vessels.
We prevent heartworms by giving either monthly tablets or using a topical liquid each month. Current medications can prevent combinations of other parasites, including fleas, intestinal worms, ticks and mites. We currently prescribe Sentinel for monthly heartworm preventative. The choice of medication is a decision you will make with your veterinarian depending on a number of factors.
No heartworm protection or testing is 100% effective. For this reason, dogs need to be tested before beginning heartworm preventative each year to be sure that they are not already infected with heartworms or have not picked them up during the previous mosquitoe season. Even if your dog is on year 'round heartworm protection, the testing is still important for the same reason. Dogs who are on year 'round protection can be heartworm tested any time that is convenient for you.