Dog Heartworm 101

Heartworm Effect on Dogs

It usually takes several years before dogs show clinical signs of infection. Due to this, heartworm disease is rare puppies because the larvae take five to seven months to mature into adult heartworms after infection. Unfortunately, by the time clinical signs are seen, the disease is usually well advanced and much of the damage has been done.

Adult heartworms cause disease by clogging the heart and major blood vessels leading from the heart. By occupying the vessels near the heart, heartworms prevent the healthy flow of blood and oxygen throughout a dog, causing organ issues for dogs in their lungs, liver and kidneys. Without the proper amount of blood and oxygen flowing to these organs, often times they will malfunction.

The signs of heartworm disease depend on the number of adult worms present, the location of the worms, the length of time the worms have been in the dog and the degree of damage that has been sustained by the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. The most obvious clinical signs of heartworm disease are a soft, dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina. Most of these symptoms make an appearance after a dog exercises. Sometimes a veterinarian can detect the presence of heartworms if there are abnormal lung and heart sounds during a stethoscope exam with your dog.

Treating Heartworms

A vet will treat heartworms in two stages. The first stage is to inject a medicine that targets the adult heartworms in a dog’s heart and blood vessels and kills them. After the adult heartworms are killed, they will decompose and eventually leave the dog’s body.

About a month after receiving that injection, a dog will get another injection of medicine that will target all of the younger heartworms that are still growing inside of your dog. If the heartworms are detected early enough, the two medications will destroy the heartworms and a dog will make a full recovery.

Preventing Heartworms

Preventing heartworm disease in dogs is a relatively simple process. In most cases, a once-monthly prescription tablet or topical treatment is all that is needed to effectively protect your dog. There’s a few different types of heartworm prevention products available, each are only available from your veterinarian, who must first make certain that your dog is not heartworm positive. These “preventatives” kill microscopic larvae that are left behind by mosquitoes when they bite a dog, which snuffs out the heartwork problem before they can grow and cause issues for your dog.

The next time you take your dog into see the vet, make sure to ask them about heartworm prevention!