Canine heartworms are very nasty parasites and an infestation is difficult, and costly, to treat. Find out how to recognize the symptoms of a problem, and what treatment options are available.
Heartworms are parasites (worms) that can cause a much more serious risk to your pet's health than intestinal worms.
They are transmitted into your puppy or dog's bloodstream through the bite of a mosquito who is carrying the microfilaria (very immature heartworm larvae) in its' blood.
This is the ONLY way that heartworm disease can be transmitted to your dog.
It isn't a condition that's contagious or can be transmitted to another dog (or cat, ferret or other mammal - including humans) without the 'middle-man' (ie the mosquito).
Once your pet has been infected, the larvae begin to mature and develop in his/her bloodstream - eventually making their way to the heart and taking up residence there. They can also get into his lungs.
It takes around 3 months for this to happen, and then it's simply a matter of the worms growing, maturing and then breeding, until they cause serious problems. These parasites can live for up to 7 years and continue to breed for most of that lifespan, eventually hundreds of these nasty critters can be living inside an infected dog!
It doesn't take much imagination to visualize what happens to a dog's heart during this time, and if you have a small breed then it doesn't take a whole lot of worms to cause critical danger. Even for a bigger dog, heartworms can be fatal, and will be if they are left untreated.
Altogether it can take around 6 months after being infected before a dog will shown any symptoms of heartworm disease, and by the time these appear the only hope of survival is time consuming, expensive and risky.
Obviously a heart filled with 9 - 14" long worms is not going to work properly, and most dogs who get to this stage will die from the disease. That is why preventing heartworm is so very important.
Because these parasites are spread by mosquitoes, it is most prevalent in warmer, central and southern states and during the Spring, Summer and early Fall season. Rural locations tend to have more mosquitoes than cities do, but it just takes one infected insect to cause trouble.
Because it tends to be a seasonal problem (although depending on where you live, the 'season' could be 4 months long, or 9, or even year-round) and the incubation period before symptoms show up is fairly long, it's important to protect your pup or dog from being mosquito bitten.
It's also vital that you give him a heartworm preventative to will make sure that, IF he does get any larvae in his bloodstream, they won't be able to survive.
Although symptoms can take up to 6 months to show up, the earlier the problem is detected the better your pet's chance of survival.
Unfortunately by the time symptoms of a heartworm infestation appear, a dog is usually pretty sick - so it's very important to act right away if you think your dog could be infected.
invade the heart, they cause problems with blood circulation, either in
the heart itself or in major/minor blood vessels in other organs such as
the lungs. Many of the signs of a heartworm problem are directly related to reduced bloodflow.
Heartworm Symptoms can include :
Usually generalized weight loss and lethargy will accompany these symptoms.
If you're worried that your dog may have heartworms, your vet can do some diagnostic tests for you, the most common one being a simple bloodtest called the Heartwormantigen Test.
Other diagnostic procedures include a test to determine the concentration of microfilaria in the bloodstream, and X-rays. Ultrasounds or ECG's.
A dog with heartworm disease needs to be carefully examined by a vet to make sure his organs are healthy enough to withstand the treatment/drugs.
If your pet is diagnosed with a mild-moderate case of heartworm infestation, he will likely be given a powerful drugs to kill off the heartworms - both in their larvae and adult stages.
He will also need
complete rest and IV fluids, possibly corticosteroids as well, and all of this usually means an extended stay at the animal hospital initially. Overall it usually takes about 6-7 months to treat canine heartworms and make sure they're fully removed from your dog's body.
There can be complications as the dead parasites are eliminated from his body and both your veterinarian and yourself will need to monitor your pet's condition very closely for several months.
It's vitally important that a dog who is being treated for this condition is kept very still and quite for several months, as exercise (even mild exercise) can cause the worms to block major blood vessels or arteries, or result in other complications, any/all of which could cause sudden death.
In severe cases, heart surgery may be needed. This involves the veterinarian surgically removing the worms from a dogs' heart. Of course, this is as dangerous and as costly as it sounds!
BUT the good news is that there's really no need for your pup/dog to ever have to go through this ordeal because there are reliable heartworm preventatives that will protect him from ever being infected.
You don't want to be in the position of having your dog develop a heartworm infestation, but luckily it's simple to make sure that doesn't happen.
Check out my Heartworm Prevention page for everything you need to know to keep your pet safe.