Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms that can live in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of your dog’s heart.
How is heartworm Spread?
Heartworm disease has been documented in all 50 States. This parasitic infection is spread from one dog to another by way of mosquitoes. The larvae are passed from the mosquito onto (not into) the dog:
- The larvae is deposited onto your dog’s skin in a tiny drop of mosquito saliva next to the mosquito bite
- For transmission to occur there must be adequate humidity to prevent evaporation of the saliva before the larvae can swim through the mosquito bite and into your dog’s body
- The larvae live near the skin for a time, then migrate to the heart and mature in about 5-7 months after entering the dog’s system
- Adult heartworms primarily lodge themselves within the blood vessels of the lungs and right side of the heart where they are capable of wreaking havoc.
Beware — a dog’s thick coat or indoor lifestyle is not sufficient in protecting them from heartworm disease!
Talk with your veterinarian about:
- The likelihood of heartworm disease in your area to determine if prevention is warranted
- Would treatment be seasonal
- Which of the numerous effective medications on the market would be best for your dog
CAUTION: Some preventative brands contain ingredients that could be harmful to certain breeds. Be sure to confirm with your vet or the manufacturer that the brand you are using is OK for your dog
- How often to administer treatment — lack of compliance is the number one reason dogs receiving heartworm prevention still develop the disease
You can also research natural products that may help prevent heartworm.
How to tell if your dog already has heartworm…
Clinical signs of the disease may not be easily recognized in dogs recently infected or have low numbers of heartworms – they may not yet exhibit any symptoms.
However, dogs heavily infected with heartworms often show clinical signs including:
- A mild persistent cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
Additionally, as heartworm disease progresses, dogs may develop heart failure commonly recognized by an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen giving the pet the appearance of a “swollen belly.”
Dogs infected with large numbers of heartworms can also develop a sudden blockage of blood flow within the heart leading to a life threatening form of cardiovascular collapse called “caval syndrome”. Signs of caval syndrome include:
- A sudden onset of labored breathing,
- Pale gums
- Dark bloody or “coffee-colored” urine.
Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few pets survive.
To learn more about heartworm disease, visit The American Heartworm Society.