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Heartworm in Dogs

Image of a white dog at the vet to illustrate an article about heartworm in dogs.

Heartworm in dogs is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by foot-long worms that can live inside your pet’s heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels. Mosquitoes transfer these parasites from one animal to another, so whenever your dog has some outdoor access, they are at risk of infection. That’s why being proactive is essential in the fight against heartworms, particularly during the hotter months when many pets increase their exposure to the outside world.

What causes heartworms in dogs?

Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, which carries immature larvae from the parasite Dirofilaria immitis from an infected animal host to a new pet. From the mosquito bite site, the larvae travel through the pet’s body all the way to the heart and pulmonary vessels in the lungs, where it matures into a full-grown worm and reproduces.

What are the clinical signs of heartworms in dogs?

Unfortunately, there are few clinical signs in the early stages of the disease, which is why testing is so important. As the disease advances, the most common symptoms are:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Failure to grow
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue or purplish discoloration of the skin and gums
  • Spitting up blood
  • Fainting
  • Nose bleeding
  • Accumulating fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

What are the diagnostic tests for heartworms in pets?

An early diagnosis can go a long way regarding heartworms in dogs. The veterinarian will choose the tests used based on the clinical signs. Chest X-rays and routine laboratory tests, for example, can help detect the presence of a parasite. An antigen test can detect heartworm proteins released by adult female heartworms into the animal’s bloodstream for a confirmed diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for heartworms in dogs?

Photo of a white poodle-like dog having their blood drawn for testing heartworm in dogs.

In extreme cases, pets with heartworms may collapse or even die if left untreated. For this reason, early diagnosis and immediate vet care are essential.

There are a few options for heartworm disease treatment in dogs. Although necessary, the pharmaceuticals currently available to address this parasite can cause serious side effects like toxicity or life-threatening blood clots in the dog’s lungs. Natural herbal supplements can be used in conjunction with vet-prescribed medication to help support the pet’s body through the treatment.

Another less viable treatment option for dogs is the removal of heartworms surgically. However, this type of operation comes with risks, and if the parasites are not removed intact, there can be potentially severe complications, including death.

How can I take care of a pet with heartworms?

The most important thing that pet owners can do to protect their furkiddo from heartworm disease is prevention. Several effective medications that safely prevent parasitic infections are available. Please talk to your vet before medicating your pup. 

However, if your little one already has heartworms, the best you can do is follow the vet’s recommendations, offer a balanced diet, add complementary supplements to their regimen, and of course, give a lot of love. All those measures will help to support your little one’s immunity to fight against this disease.