Heartworms are a serious disease which can be fatal to your dog. Even if you live in a state or region with relatively low occurrences of the disease, most do not realize heartworm disease has been found in all 50 states and multiple variables from wildlife carriers. mosquito migration and environmental conditions make predicting the risk impossible 1.
Heartworms are largely spread by mosquitoes. These insects drink the blood from an infected dog, and take worm larvae into their gut. The larvae spend around two weeks developing inside the mosquito. They are then injected into an unsuspecting dog when the mosquito next has a blood meal. They then undergo further development into adult heart worm and set up home in the dog’s pulmonary artery. If a dog has enough worms, it gets crowded in the arteries and they also start to accumulate in the chambers of the right side of his heart.
Your dog can be infected with heartworm for several years before he shows any symptoms of the disease. However, it’s not all plain sailing behind the scenes. By the time he becomes ill, the damage has been done, as the lining of his pulmonary arteries becomes inflamed and blood flow to the lungs is blocked. It’s important to differentiate between heartworm infection and heartworm disease. A dog can have heartworm infection but not be obviously unwell. However, heartworm disease means that the dog is actually affected by the presence of these worms in his body.
Dogs with heartworm disease show symptoms of right sided heart failure, including coughing, difficulty in breathing and a reduced ability to exercise.As the disease progresses, fluid accumulates in your dog’s abdomen which makes him look very pot bellied.
Treatment of heartworm disease in dogs involves killing adult worms in the heart, as well as immature worms that are circulating in his bloodstream. Depending on your dog’s symptoms, he may need medication to ease the irritation and inflammation in the lining of his arteries.
Now that you know how easy it is for your dog to become infected with heartworm, and how damaging it can be, you’ll agree that it’s vital that you take steps to prevent infection. There are several options available, from monthly tablets, to monthly liquids that can be applied to the back of the neck, and even an injection that lasts up to a year. None of these will stop your dog from becoming infected with heartworm larvae from an infected mosquito bite, but they do kill the larvae before they develop into adults. One of these methods will fit your lifestyle and budget.
Annual heartworm testing should be conducted, even when dogs are on medication to ensure that it is working. Though the medications are highly effective, dogs can still become infected, especially if you give it to your dog late or miss a dose completely 2.
Speak to your vet today about how you can protect your dog from this silent disease.
- Harvey Dr., A., BVSc(Hons). (2009). Heartworm.
Disclosure Note: This article only serves as a guide and is based on research from various sources, both online and in print, including article(s) written by DVMs, dog trainers, groomers, and/or other qualified experts. Please check with your DVM for any questions regarding the information provided in this article. Thank you.