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Heartworms in Dogs: Facts and Solutions

Apr 19, 2023Dogs

As a pet parent, keeping your dog healthy and safe is one of your top priorities, and one of the best ways to keep them safe is with routine preventative care. Preventative treatments protect your dog from heartworms, a parasite that can be deadly for your pup.  Read on to learn more about what heartworms are and how you can help protect your dog.

What are Heartworms?

Heartworms, or Dirofilaria immitis, are a type of parasite that is transmitted through mosquitoes. These worms use your dog as a host, and they infect your dog’s heart, lungs, and other associated blood vessels. They can be anywhere from 6-14” long, and they can reproduce quickly within your dog.  Because the parasites are transmitted by mosquitoes, your dog is at a higher risk during the warm seasons or if you live in a warm climate.  While there are treatments available for heartworm disease, the treatment isn’t easy and can lead to serious complications. That’s why the safest choice to protect your dog is a year-round heartworm preventative.

How Do You Know if Your Dog Has Heartworms?

The symptoms of heartworm disease depend on how old your dog is and how long they’ve been infected. In the early stages, there will likely be no recognizable symptoms, or they may develop a mild cough.  As the heartworms grow, multiply, and start putting more pressure on your dog’s internal organs, that’s when you can see more symptoms such as:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Persistent cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen belly
  • Heart failure (in severe cases)

Even if your dog shows no signs of heartworm disease, it’s always a good idea to get your dog tested annually in combination with a heartworm preventative. Veterinarians test for heartworm by taking a small blood sample from your dog. The sooner you can detect the disease, the easier and more effective treatment will be.

Why Preventative Medications are Important for Your Dog

Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal disease that takes a toll on your dog’s body. If the disease isn’t caught soon enough, it can have devastating effects on your dog’s health like heart failure and caval syndrome, a condition where the heartworms are so dense in your dog’s heart that they block blood from flowing.  Even when the disease is caught early, treatment options are still hard on your pup. Treatment for heartworm disease typically requires multiple injections of medication into your dog’s back muscles and a strict no-exercise policy for months while your dog recovers.  The good news is that heartworm disease is completely preventable, and that’s why routine preventative medication is the best choice.  Given monthly as either a chewable pill or a topical liquid, heartworm preventatives keep your dog protected year-round. Many heartworm medications also protect your dog from fleas, ticks, and other parasites as well.

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