Dog Heartworm - Everything You Should Know About Heartworm Disease In Dogs

What is heartworm disease and how can it affect my dog?

Heartworm disease is when there are worms on the dog's heart. It's a parasite and the worms go into dogs' hearts, which is why they're called heartworms.

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

How do dogs catch heartworms?

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. We live here in Texas so we have a high population of mosquitoes which means every time that your dog goes outside, even just going out to potty, can be exposed to mosquitoes. Many people say their dog only goes out to potty before coming right back inside, so they cannot have contracted heartworm disease. However, just on your walk to your car, you can be bitten by a mosquito. So everytime your dog goes outside, they are exposed, and all it takes is one bite for your dog to contract the larva, which can develop into heartworm disease within six months.

Can heartworms be prevented?

They can! Veterinarians love this question because guess what? Every veterinarian that you go to in the United States is going to talk to you about heartworm prevention because that's how important it is. It's very easily preventable. There are injections that you can get every six months or every 12 months. There are oral preventatives that you can get once a month. It's very easily preventable and very expensive to treat.

What are signs in my dog that would indicate they may have heartworms?

Often, you're not going to know in the very beginning stages unless there's a high worm burden. If there's a high worm burden or the heartworms have been in the heart for a really long time and they have damaged the heart, then we can see coughing. They can get tired a little more easily. So if your dog usually goes around the block three or four times easily but then they are tired from going around the block once, it would be a good time to come in and have them checked out, especially if they’re not on heartworm prevention. Coughing is usually the first and dominant symptom you’ll see.

What are some middle to late stage symptoms of heartworms?

Collapse, unfortunately, coughing up blood, which sounds really scary because it is scary. In end stage heartworm disease, you can also see port wine urine. It's called cable syndrome and, unfortunately, that does indicate that there are so many worms in the heart that death is very imminent.

What can be done to stabilize my dog's heartworm disease?

Go to your veterinarian. That's step one. Let's go to your veterinarian to get tested for heartworms to see if they have them or not. Stabilization is going to involve oxygen therapy, and if we need medications, heartworm treatment because you can treat the dog. In very severe cases where there are too many heartworms in their heart, a cardiologist can go in with a scope through the jugular vein and manually remove the heartworms.

How will a veterinarian diagnose my dog's heartworms?

There are three different ways that are the most common. Two you do in the hospital by running a heartworm test. It's a simple blood test. It takes a few drops of blood and you can run a heartworm test and it comes back positive or negative. Another way we check is by observing your pet’s blood under the microscope, as adult heartworms produce babies called microfilaria, which swim around in the bloodstream. We can also see heartworms by putting an ultrasound probe on their chest, allowing us to see the heartworms moving around.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heartworms so important?

Because we don't want our dogs to die. That's the most important reason because worms in the heart create irreparable heart damage and the longer those worms are in the heart the more damaged the heart is. So to protect your pet and to have them live the longest that they can, preventing damage to the heart is going to be really important. We want to prevent the disease instead of treating it, so I strongly recommend being on heartworm prevention year-round.

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