Heartworm in Dogs: Prevention & Treatment

Spread through mosquito bites, the parasitic heartworm can cause damage to organs and even become life-threatening for your dog. In this post, our Park Pet vets discuss signs of heartworm in dogs and how you can protect your canine companion. 

What is heartworm?

The blood-borne parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis causes heartworm disease — a condition that occurs in dogs worldwide. More than 30 species of mosquitoes can transmit heartworms.

If an infected mosquito bites your pup, heartworm larvae make their way inside your pet’s heart, mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. The condition can lead to heart failure, organ damage and severe lung disease.

What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?

Many dogs will show few, if any, symptoms in the early stages of the disease, making it difficult to detect if not caught during a physical examination and blood test at your vet’s office. As the disease progresses, your dog can suffer from symptoms such as fatigue after moderate activity, a mild but persistent cough, weight loss, lack of appetite, and difficulty breathing.

In advanced cases, pets may sadly develop heart failure and the belly will swell from excess fluid accumulating in the dog’s abdomen.

How is heartworm disease detected?

Heartworms release proteins into your dog’s bloodstream. Your veterinarian can perform blood tests to detect these proteins, but the earliest this can occur is five months after a dog has been infected.

How is heartworm disease treated?

If your dog is diagnosed with this condition, your vet can help you decide which treatment is appropriate for your pet. The drug melarsomine dihydrochloride contains arsenic and is injected into a dog’s back muscles to kill adult heartworms.

Alternatively, there are also topical solutions that can be applied to your pet’s skin to help kill the parasites in your dog’s bloodstream. It’s important to keep in mind that treating heartworm can lead to serious complications for your pet’s health and may be toxic to your dog.

Since treatment requires multiple visits to the vet, X-Rays, bloodwork, hospitalization, and a series of injections, treating heartworm disease can also be very expensive.

How can I prevent my dog from getting heartworm disease?

Heartworm prevention is essential to ensuring your dog is protected against this potentially fatal disease. Because heartworms can only be detected five months after being exposed to infection, we recommend having your dog tested annually (every 12 months) for heartworm. Heartworm preventive treatments should also be administered monthly. Our vets at Park Pet Hospital always advise that when it comes to heartworm disease, prevention is much better than treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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