Heartworm can instill fear in the heart of any dog owner. The best way to get rid of that fear is to equip yourself with knowledge. Learn all about heartworm, its symptoms in dogs, and how you can prevent them below.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic roundworm. It’s spread through the bite of a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae—which means it can’t be passed from dog to dog or dog to human.
When a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the larvae travel through the dog’s body to the heart and lung vessels.
It typically takes six months for the larvae to mature. Mature heartworms can reproduce and multiply within the heart and lungs.
If your infected dog isn’t protected against heartworm and is left untreated, heartworm disease can become serious. However, it is a preventable condition.
What Are Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs?
Symptoms usually do not appear until the worm reaches maturity, which means that there can be a six-month delay between your dog getting infected and showing signs of heartworm.
Common heartworm symptoms include:
- A dry, persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Fainting, especially after exercise
- A protruding chest, which is a fluid buildup in response to parasites in the lungs
- Congestive heart failure and death in severe, untreated cases
Because heartworms target and reproduce in the heart and lungs, the most common canine heartworm symptoms involve respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
Other less common symptoms include blindness, seizures, and lameness. These can occur when heartworm larvae don’t make it to the lungs or heart. Instead, they can get stuck in the eye, brain, or leg artery.
How Can You Prevent & Treat Heartworms?
Dogs are an easy host for heartworms. Because it’s spread by mosquitos, it’s not a disease restricted to one particular location. While infected mosquitos are mostly found in tropical and subtropical climates, cases are reported in every state.
That’s why heartworm prevention is so important. The American Heartworm Society supports the “Think 12” approach. This approach recommends that dog owners should get their pet tested for heartworms once every 12 months and give their pet preventative medication every month of the year.
Because heartworm symptoms in dogs don’t always show up until months after infection, early prevention and detection are vital. Annual heartworm tests are routine blood samples at your vet.
If the test is positive, there are a variety of treatment options. In many cases, the heartworms can be killed with a medication. However, in severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Dogs must get tested again 6 months after completing treatment to ensure that all parasites are gone.
Take Care of Your Dog’s Heart
A healthy diet and exercise aren’t the only things involved in caring for your dog’s heart health. Make sure you follow Think 12. Get your dog tested for heartworm annually and give him preventative medication monthly.
Don’t forget to treat your dog after any vet visit or medication! Bully sticks are a natural, healthy treat alternative that your dog is sure to love.