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Heartworms in Dogs: Facts and Myths
WebMD separates the facts from fiction about canine heartworms.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

Heartworms in dogs are easy to prevent, but difficult and costly to cure. We asked Sheldon Rubin, 2007-2010 president of the American Heartworm Society, to separate facts from the myths about heartworm infestations in dogs.

Q: How do dogs get heartworms?

A: Only by the bite of an infected mosquito. There’s no other way dogs get heartworms. And there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected. That’s why prevention is so important.

Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states. And the bite of just one mosquito infected with the heartworm larvae will give your dog heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease has not only spread throughout the United States, but it’s also now found in areas where veterinarians used to say “Oh, we don’t have heartworm disease.” Areas like Oregon, California, Arizona, and desert areas — where irrigation and building are allowing mosquitoes to survive. And if you have mosquitoes and you have animals, you’re going to have heartworms. It’s just that simple.

It takes about seven months, once a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. They then lodge in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels and begin reproducing. Adult worms can grow up to 12 inches in length, can live 5-7 years, and a dog can have as many as 250 worms in its system.

Q: Can people get heartworms from their dogs?

A: It can only be passed on by mosquitoes. It’s a specific parasite that only affects dogs and cats and ferrets and other mammals. In rare cases, heartworms have infected people, but it does not complete its life cycle. The heartworm will migrate to the lung and cause a round lesion that looks like a tumor. But these are very rare cases.

Q: If one of my dogs has heartworms, can he give it to my other dogs?

A: No. Again, the only way heartworms are transmitted is through the bite of an infected mosquito. And even if an uninfected mosquito bit your infected dog, and then bit your uninfected dog the same night, he wouldn’t transmit the parasite from one dog to the other. That’s because when a mosquito bites an infected animal, the heartworm needs to undergo an incubation period in the mosquito before the mosquito can infect other animals.

Q: Is it OK to adopt a dog with heartworms?

A: It’s a very common problem in animal shelters today, and public shelters rarely have the money to treat heartworm disease. It’s perfectly acceptable to adopt a dog with heartworms, but you have to be dedicated to having the disease treated appropriately, because it’s a horrible disease that can lead to a dog’s death if left untreated.

Q: How can I prevent my dogs from getting heartworms?

A: For less than the cost of going to Starbucks for a weekly coffee, you can prevent heartworm disease in your dog. There are monthly pills, monthly topicals that you put on the skin, and there’s also a six-month injectable product. The damage that’s done to the dog and the cost of the treatment is way more than the cost to prevent heartworm disease. A year’s supply of heartworm preventative will cost about $35 to $80, depending on a dog’s weight.

Q: What are the symptoms of heartworm infestations in dogs?

A: Initially, there are no symptoms. But as more and more worms crowd the heart and lungs, most dogs will develop a cough. As it progresses, they won’t be able toexercise as much as before; they’ll become winded easier. With severe heartworm disease, we can hear abnormal lung sounds, dogs can pass out from the loss of blood to the brain, and they can retain fluids. Eventually, most dogs will die if the worms are not treated.

Q: Once my dog has heartworms, what’s the treatment? How much will it cost?

A: The drug that you treat with is called Immiticide. It’s an injectable, arsenic-based product. The dog is given two or three injections that will kill the adult heartworms in the blood vessels of the heart.

The safest way to treat heartworms includes an extensive pre-treatment workup, including X-rays, blood work, and all the tests needed to establish how serious the infection is. Then the dog is given the injections. With all the prep work, it can run up to $1,000. But just the treatment can be done for about $300 in some areas.

Q: Why do I have to keep my dog quiet during the several months he’s being treated for heartworms?

A: After treatment, the worms begin to die. And as they die, they break up into pieces, which can cause a blockage of the pulmonary vessels and cause death. That’s why dogs have to be kept quiet during the treatment and then for several months afterward. Studies have shown that most of the dogs that die after heartworm treatment do so because the owners let them exercise. It’s not due to the drug itself.

Q: If my dog is diagnosed with heartworms, can I just give him his monthly preventative instead of having him go through treatment? Won’t that kill his heartworms?

A: Studies have shown that if you use ivermectin, the common preventative, on a monthly basis in a dog with heartworm disease, after about two years you’ll kill off most of the dog’s young heartworms. The problem is, in the meantime, all of those heartworms are doing permanent damage to the heart and blood vessels.

But if there’s no way someone can afford the actual treatment, at least using the preventative on a monthly basis could be a lesser alternative.

Q: Can I skip giving my dog his preventative during colder months, when there aren’t any mosquitoes?

A: The American Heartworm Society recommends year-round heartworm prevention. One reason is, there’s already a serious problem with people forgetting to give their dogs the heartworm preventatives. It’s a universal problem. Now if you use it year-round, and you miss a month, your dog will probably still be protected. But if you miss more than one or two months your dog could become infected.

The other reason not to stop is that many of the preventatives today also include an intestinal parasite control for roundworms, whipworms, or tapeworms. You want your dog to be protected against those at all times.

Q: If I don’t treat my dog with heartworms, will he “outgrow” his heartworms?

A: No. He stands a good chance of dying from the disease.

Q: I’ve heard the treatment for heartworms can be dangerous. Are there any newer, safer alternatives?

A: We used to use plain arsenic to treat it, which had many side effects. What we use now is a safer product with fewer side effects. It’s a safe product if used correctly.

Q: If my dog gets heartworms, and is treated for them, can he get them again?

A: Yes, he can get them again. That’s why prevention is so important.

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North Meck News

View the official Newsletter here!

2018 North Meck Calendar Pre-Orders!

It’s finally here! The 2018 limited edition NMAR calendars are now on pre-sale with a special early bird price! Each calendar is $20 and includes free shipping! But don’t wait, this special is only good until September 5th!

The 2018 North Meck Animal Rescue calendar features our contest winner and cover dog, Heath the Puppyman along with 12 amazing runner ups!

Click here to order your 2018 NMAR Calendar!

Did you know, according to The Humane Society of the United States, there are 70 million stray animals living in the U.S.? Only about 6 to 8 million of these homeless pets enter shelters and 3 to 4 million get adopted, meaning only 20% of Americans adopt. The rest of the pets come from breeders.


The outdoor facility Izzy, Zoey and Sage have speent their whole lives in.

This weekend three “retired” breeder dogs named Izzy (chocolate lab, 4 years), her sister Zoey (chocolate lab, 4 years) and Sage (yellow lab, 4 years) arrived at North Meck. Upon arrival, they will be headed to the vet for the first time in their lives. Sage, Zoey and Izzy have spent their entire life in an outdoor kennel, so they are due for a soft dog bed and a loving family. We are looking for patient lab fosters for Izzy, Zoey and Sage, can you help?


Zoey starting her journey to North Meck.

If you are interested in fostering any of our dogs now or at any time, please sign up here. Foster failure has hit an all time high, but with so many adorable dogs coming through it’s no wonder! With your help we can continue to encourage people to adopt don’t shop!

Meet our new volunteer coordinator, Katie!

Hi, my name is Katie and I am married with 2 furbabies, a black cat we adopted in 2013 and an NMAR alum. My husband and I moved to Charlotte in January when I accepted a relocation opportunity with my employer. We loved the city and work was going well so decided it was time to expand our family. In April, we did just that and adopted Buster, one of the tiny jackabee puppies. The minute we saw him we knew he just had to be a Donegan. That day in April was just more than the day we adopted our Buster but was also the day our eyes and hearts opened wide, I wanted to help, somehow. Once Buster was done with all his puppy shots I started volunteering and spending my day off at NMAR and couldn’t be happier. Everyday I feel blessed to be apart of the journey these sweet animals are going through. Thank You North Meck for giving me this opportunity!

Make sure to check out our Upcoming Events!
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IT’S CALENDAR TIME … and this year’s Limited Edition calendar is on sale for just $25 plus FREE SHIPPING!

Order as many calendars as you like for just $25 each … AND THAT INCLUDES FREE SHIPPING!
The 2018 North Meck Animal Rescue calendar features our contest winner and cover dog, Heath the Puppyman, along with 12 amazing runner-ups!

Calendars are scheduled to ship just in time for the holidays. So make sure to buy calendars for all the wonderful people on your holiday gift lists. Remember, free shipping applies to every calendar you have sent to your family and friends!

Any donations to NMAR are 100% tax deductible. You will receive a receipt for your donation, monetary or in-kind, for your tax records.


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North Meck Animal Rescue by Samantha Boshoff - 3w ago
Hi Friends!

As a rescue, we are always facing new emergencies. Today, we are asking for your help to raise $8,500 to pay medical bills so that we can continue helping more homeless dogs. At North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue, we are changing the lives of dogs like Bella, who was living in crisis and in need of urgent medical care. Please read Bella’s story and donate and help us carry on our mission to end pet abandonment, abuse and neglect. It breaks our hearts to see dogs living in horrific situations, but it tears us apart even more when we can’t rescue more dogs because our financial resources are low.

Bella chained up, in a dirt lot filled with trash, boards with nails sticking out, and no shelter from the elements. When we arrived, her puppies were hiding under an old HVAC unit. Sweet Bella was deprived of food and care, leaving her unable to properly care for her beautiful puppies. Sadly, they didn’t all survive. Despite the terrible conditions, with medical care and some TLC, the pups that did make it are on the road to recovery. After multiple years of having litters of puppies and neglect, Bella will need more vet care along with love and support to become healthy again.

By making a generous gift we can continue to help pups like Bella and the many others that need us. Each and every one of their lives is worth saving.

THANK YOU, from all of us at North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue!
Sincerely,
Beth, Cate and Samantha

P.S. Share with your friends and help us reach our goal of $8,500!!

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Hey friends!

We are currently in the process of designing new shirts for the rescue and we want your help! Now through June 30th we will be accepting t-shirt designs for our rescue made by our awesome supporters!

Requirements:
-Include NMAR Logo
-Include our tagline “Making families, one dog at a time.”
-Be creative!

The design can be front and back or just on the front and there is no limit on how many designs you can submit. We recommend to use a free t-shirt design website like customink.com! Submit your creative designs to samantha@northmeckanimalrescue.org. After June 30th we will release our top 5 favorite designs for all of you to vote on!

Happy designing everyone!

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North Meck Animal Rescue by Samantha Boshoff - 3w ago

Click to view our full spring newsletter: NMAR Spring 2017 Newsletter

Happy Spring, Friends! Is your dog the next NMAR cover dog?


Want to have your adorable fur-baby on the cover of our 2018 calendar? Now is your chance! Thirteen winners will be featured in our NMAR 2018 Calendar, including the first place winner who will be spotlighted on the cover! It’s free to enter and you don’t have to be a NMAR dog to enter! All you have to do is submit your photo and get your friends and family to vote!!
We can’t wait to see all the cute contestants! Is your dog the next NMAR cover dog?

Enter your dog and vote at: http://makemycontest.com/nmar2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss

Want to ensure your dog gets in our calendar? Reserve a day to honor your pet! Each day is $15. It can be your pet’s adoption anniversary, birthday, a love one’s birthday, a memorial or any special day! Your pet’s photo will appear on the day of your choice, first come, first served! Once a date has been reserved, it will no longer be available, so make sure you reserve a day, today! For directions on how to reserve a day, please visit the contest website!

Having trouble voting or have a question? Please email Samantha at samantha@northmeckanimalrescue.org.

Can you Foster?

Three reason to foster:

  • Foster dogs learn that they are loved
  • You’ll give them a chance to shine!
  • Goodbye is a happy ending
  • We have a few dogs in need of loving and cozy foster homes! One of the best ways to help our dogs is by giving them a warm foster home to enjoy before finding their forever home. Can you help? Please fill out a foster application!

    Sage is currently in need of a new foster home. Her current foster family is moving out of state in two weeks. Sage is a no kids dog. Can you help? Read more about Sage here.

    If you have any questions, please see our FAQ page or email our foster coordinator Matt at mhallgren@northmeckanimalrescue.org.

    Have some time to spare?

    We are in need of volunteers!

    Our volunteer hours are 8:30 am to 11 am daily. If you can help, please submit a volunteer application! Our dogs would love to have more walks!

    Volunteer Work Day March 2017

    Check out our awesome volunteers at our Volunteer Work Day! Our amazing volunteers helped build raised dog beds for our sweet shelter dogs. We couldn’t have done it without you!

    For more pictures from our Volunteer Work Day and other updates, please visit our Facebook page!

    Calling all NMAR dogs and their forever homes!

    We love seeing updates on our NMAR dogs in their loving forever homes so much, we made a Facebook page so we can see all of them!
    Join here!

    We have a new email address!

    Our new email address is northmeckclt@gmail.com!
    Don’t worry, we still have our old email address but we will be gradually phasing it out.

    Check out our Amazon Wishlist!

    Click the here to donate!

    One more week to vote on our new tagline!

    Click here to vote!

    Stay updated and follow us!

    Make sure to follow us on our Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter!

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    Is your dog the next NMAR cover dog? Want to have your adorable fur-baby on the cover of our 2018 calendar? Now is your chance!

    13 winners will be featured in our 2018 calendar, including the first place winner who will be spotlighted on the cover. All you have to do is submit your photo and get your friends and family to vote. We can’t wait to see all of the cute contestants!

    Enter your dog and vote here: http://makemycontest.com/nmar2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss

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    EEEK, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE!!!! The following tips and guidelines will help you protect your companion animals when the temps start dropping.

    1. Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
    2. Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. They can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking paws, and paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
    3. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry them before taking out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear!
    4. Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
    5. Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take them outdoors only to relieve themselves.
    6. Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase her supply of food, particularly protein, to keep her in tip-top shape.
    7. Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.
    8. During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
    9. Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for more information.
    10. Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
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    North Meck Animal Rescue by Danielle - 3w ago

    Happy Tails! 
    Hey friends. My name is Cooper formally known as Maxton. I am one happy and energetic boy. I love to run very fast and play with my bones and toys. I have so much fun playing with all of my dog friends. My mom is so happy she was able to adopt me. My moms nickname for me is baby love since I was adopted on Valentine’s Day. We are a perfect match!!

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    North Meck Animal Rescue by Danielle - 3w ago

    Here’s Anna, now Annie, doing what she loves. In late 2012, She was in a high-kill shelter in rural SC , with a badly broken hip after being hit by a car. Her sweet spirit stole our hearts immediately , and she weathered the broken hip and heart worms with love and grace. Thank you North Meck Animal Rescue

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