Ick! I really didn't want to entitle this post "Heartworm". Perhaps Cardiac Parasite of Terminal Potential would have been preferable?
Actually, there is no way to pretty up the threat posed by heartworm. The bad news is, left undetected and untreated, it will kill your dog. Permitted to progress to full blown infestation, treatment can be life-threatening. But, it is completely preventable. All it takes is responsible care of your dog.
When I moved to San Diego County in 1973, heartworm in dogs here was unknown. It was considered to be a problem of the Gulf Coast. But, sadly, heartworm is very much a problem in San Diego County now.
When we adopted our first Greyhound, Zephyr, in September of 2005, she had been tested for heartworm, found to be negative, and was on a regimen of Interceptor, which we continued to give her faithfully on the first of every month, along with tick and flea preventative.
Since then, all of our dogs have been adopted through Greyhound Adoption Center and all have been on heartworm preventative.
Heartworm preventative is different from flea and tick preventative in that it cannot be safely begun until a blood test establishes that the dog is not infected, and, once begun, the preventative must be given regularly. If there is a hiatus, a new blood test must be given before re-instituting treatment.
So, I suppose, it is not surprising that when people's lives begin to fall apart, one of the things that is forgotten or deleted is heartworm preventative. This year, I have heard of three cases of late stage heartworm infestation in dogs. One dog has been successfully treated and is living a normal doggie life. I await word on the other two.
The problem of treating a dog with advanced heartworm is that, as the worms die, large portions of dead worms are flushed out through blood vessels, and, if dogs are not kept relatively quiet during this time, they can die from arterial blockage.
Don't rely on your dog's behavior to tell you of an infestation. Dogs with advanced heartworm are frequently as active and playful as dogs with no infestation.
More than once, I have heard my veterinarian speaking very sternly to people who have permitted heartworm treatment to lapse. I have to restrain myself from chiming in with "Listen to her, and don't let it happen again!"
Dogs suffer and die from all sorts of unpreventable illnesses. Don't let your dog suffer--or die--from something as preventable as heartworm.