Heartworm in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment


Parasites in dogs can be a serious concern, especially if they are not treated properly. Parasites can cause significant health problems and even death in some cases. Heartworms are a common parasite in dogs, regardless which breed, whether you have a small dog like Shih Tzu or a huge dog like a Labrador. Part of being a responsible dog owner is being aware of the dangers of heartworms and the symptoms so that your dog can receive treatment right away. Read on to find out more about heartworms and how you can prevent this parasite from infecting your dog. 

What Are Heartworms?

Heartworm in dogs is a serious and potentially fatal parasitic infection caused by the roundworm Dirofilaria immitis. Heartworm is spread from one dog to another through the bite of an infected mosquito. When a mosquito feeds on an infected animal, microscopic baby worms (called microfilariae) are released into the bloodstream. If this mosquito then bites another animal, these microfilariae can be transmitted and begin to develop into adult heartworms in that animal. 

Once inside a dog’s body, the immature heartworms make their way to the right side of the heart where they mature into adults over a period of several months. Adult heartworms live in the pulmonary arteries and right ventricle of the heart and can grow up to 12 inches long. As they grow, they create clumps within these vessels which block blood flow causing damage to other organs in addition to the heart itself. As time passes, more clogs start forming as more worms accumulate in these vessels leading to further damage.

Symptoms of Heartworm

In the early stages of infection, many dogs may not show any signs or symptoms of heartworm. However, as the infection progresses, there are several common signs that may appear. These include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Fatigue after exercise
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen abdomen due to fluid buildup in the lungs or liver

In some cases, a dog may also experience difficulty breathing or fainting spells.

If left untreated, heartworm can cause permanent damage to the heart and lungs by damaging their tissue and blocking blood flow. This causes further complications such as congestive heart failure (CHF), pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), and even sudden death. In severe cases of heartworm disease, surgery may be needed to remove adult worms from the arteries leading to the heart and lungs.

It is important to note that treatment for heartworm is available but must be started immediately upon diagnosis in order to avoid more serious health consequences. Joining organised community groups for pets could also be very helpful for they provide support and tips for your fur friends.

Heartworm Treatment and Prevention in Dogs

Treatment for heartworm disease is available but is expensive and time consuming. The first step is for your veterinarian to diagnose your dog with an x-ray or ultrasound to check for any evidence of heartworms. Once diagnosed, treatment usually involves an injection of medication called Immiticide which kills the adult worms in the bloodstream. This is followed by a course of antibiotics to clear any bacterial infections caused by the dead worms in your dog’s system. Your dog will need regular follow up visits with the vet for six months or more to ensure there are no remaining live worms in their body. 

Preventing heartworm disease is much easier than treating it once it has taken hold in your pet’s system. The most effective way to prevent heartworm infection is through monthly preventive medications that kill immature stages of the parasite before they can become adults living inside your dog’s body. These medications should be administered year-round as mosquitos carrying the larvae can be active throughout all seasons.

In addition to giving preventive medications, it is also important to limit your dog’s exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible. Keeping a well-maintained yard free of standing water will help keep mosquito populations down. If your dog spends time outside, consider using insect repellent on them as well as keeping them indoors during peak mosquito hours of dusk and dawn. 

Regular testing for heartworm should also be part of your pet’s routine medical care. Your veterinarian will perform a simple blood test every 6 to 12 months to check for signs of infection before it becomes serious or life-threatening. Early detection is key in treating heartworm disease effectively if your dog does become infected with this parasite. 

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