Tag Archives: treatment

Canine heartworm disease

In my recent visit to the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary, I fell in love with a little dog that I would have loved to adopt.   I learned that she had heartworm disease and was scheduled to undergo further treatment.

I’m not familiar with this disease because I live in New Zealand, where the disease doesn’t exist (and so our authorities would not allow her into the country, which was news I was not prepared to hear).  Here’s some information on the condition:

Heartworm disease is widespread in the United States but particularly prevalent in the southern states around the Gulf of Mexico (including Texas, where my little dog was picked up).  

Mosquitoes help to transmit the infection.  The mosquito ingests microfilariae that circulate in the blood of an infected animal and then these microfilariae develop inside the mosquito.  When the mosquito bites another dog, the larvae are transferred to the new host and travel through the connective tissues into veins and then travel to the heart where they attach themselves in the arteries and pulmonary blood vessels to feed off the nutrient-rich blood.

Within 3-4 months, the heartworms begin reproducing, releasing microfilariae into the bloodstream, where again they can be picked up by mosquitoes to infect other dogs or re-infect the same dog that is bitten again.

Heartworms can grow up to a foot in length and damage the blood vessels as well as inhibiting the flow of blood.   Many dogs with heartworm will not show symptoms but in more serious cases the dogs may have a mild, persistent cough, be reluctant to exercise, show fatigue after only moderate exercise, or have reduced appetite and weight loss.  Dogs can die from the effects of a severe heartworm infestation.

There is a drug that can be injected into a dog for treatment of heartworm, but administration of drugs to prevent heartworm is essential in all dogs.  Dogs are tested for an antigen to confirm presence of heartworms. 

Dogs that are treated for heartworm are injected with a special drug under close veterinary supervision.  Dogs must be kept quiet because as the worms die off, their bodies can become lodged in the lungs causing pulmonary embolism.  This condition can also kill the dog.   Treatment for heartworm is not a full-proof process and comes with risks.

Heartworm disease can affect animals other than dogs.  It has been found in coyotes, wolves, cats, foxes and ferrets – but is the dog that is considered the definitive and ideal host.

Dog owners in the US should ensure that they are giving their dog an approved heartworm prevention drug. 

You can learn more about canine heartworm disease by visiting the American Heartworm Society website.

A canine heart showing severe heartworm infestation

Cruciate ligament injuries in dogs

The knee joint can be vulnerable to injury in dogs just as it is in people because the bones are attached through soft tissues known as ligaments.   I received a call a couple of weeks ago from a friend saying, “Kathleen, I was at the dog park with Lea and she cried out and pulled up lame.  She won’t bear weight on it.  What do you think is wrong?”

Since I’m not a vet, I’m not qualified to diagnose injuries but this particular one sounded to me like a ‘classic’ cruciate ligament tear or rupture.   My friend didn’t want to pay after-hours vet prices on the weekend if he didn’t have to but equally didn’t want to wait to see a vet if her condition was serious or life-threatening.

I suggested that he rest Lea, keep her warm, dry and comfortable and go to the vet if there was an immediate change in her condition.   Otherwise, if she still wasn’t weight-bearing on Monday, then a visit to their regular vet was warranted.

As it turned out, Lea’s condition didn’t change over the weekend and a visit to the vet confirmed a cruciate ligament tear.  She’s now resting in the hope that the tear will heal itself.

In many cases, cruciate ligament injuries are partial tears and surgery isn’t required.  In others, full rupture of the ligament may mean that surgical repair is required.  Some dogs still need ongoing support for their legs regardless of whether the ligament was repaired surgically or not.   Leg braces that are made from a cast of the dog’s leg work well in many cases.

I work on dogs with these injuries in my canine massage practice.  Laser therapy helps to relieve the pain of the injury and support healing.  Passive range of motion exercises assist in keeping the leg joints mobile, but without pressure on the knee joint.  And hydrotherapy works wonders when the dog is ready for this type of more strenuous (but non-weight bearing) exercise!

Here’s a great video, courtesy of the folks at Vetstoria and YouTube about the symptoms and diagnosis of cruciate ligament ruptures.