Heartworm in Dogs is Dangerous and Deadly

Heartworm in Dogs is Dangerous and Deadly

Heartworm is a dangerous disease in dogs and has the potential to become deadly.  Arming yourself with the knowledge relative to the cause, symptoms, prevention and treatment methods could mean the difference between life and death for your dog.
Cause of Heartworm in Dogs
Through a single bite from a mosquito, a dog can be infected by the parasite that causes heartworm. Oddly enough, heartworm resides inside a dog’s body, infecting the heart, (hence the name).  They also live in the lungs and blood vessels.  According to the FDA, this parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, is what is known as a “definitive host”. Essentially, this means that the life cycle of these worms can occur right inside your dog’s body! Interestingly enough, without the mosquito, the parasite that causes heartworm can never come to infect a dog.
Did you know that a heartworm can live for up to 7 years inside of a dog’s body? It’s true.  These adult heartworms can grow anywhere from 6 to 12 inches right inside a dog’s body.  While the average number of heartworms inside of a dog’s body is 15, a dog that has heartworms can have anywhere from 1 to 250 of these worms inside of them!
Symptoms of Heartworm in Dogs
Symptoms of heartworm in dogs present themselves differently depending on the severity and stage of the disease. The activity level of a dog, as well as how the dog’s particular body responds to the disease also play a role in how obvious the symptoms are.  For example, a very active dog that has been infected with heartworm for a long time will present more obvious symptoms than a more sedentary dog that has more recently been infected.
There are four stages of heartworm disease in dogs.  The first two stages of the disease will present little to no symptoms.  In stage two, you may notice a decline in activity levels, lethargy, and a mild cough. In stage three, symptoms become more prominent.  In addition to lethargy, the decline in activity levels and a cough, you may also notice some other signs.  Trouble breathing and/or indication of heart failure.  The latter may be denoted via x-rays. Stage four, the final stage of heartworm is the life-threatening stage.  It is at this stage that surgery is the only option to rid the dog of the disease.  This stage is called “caval syndrome”.  Blood flow to the dog’s heart is blocked completely by the worms at this stage, thus the need for surgery.
Testing for Heartworm in Dogs
Yearly testing for heartworm is imperative. Through a blood test the antigens, or proteins, of heartworm can be detected.  A single heartworm may be detected via the antigen test.  However, the caveat to this is that it takes five months for the heartworm protein to show up on the antigen test.  A veterinarian may also suggest another test that can denote the presence of adult heartworm. This can take six months from the time a dog has been bitten by a mosquito to show up on this particular test. As you can see, it will take, at the very minimum, five or six months to even diagnose heartworm disease in dogs.
Treatment and Prevention of Heartworm in Dogs
Treatment for heartworm is no day at the park for dogs and their pet parents.  It’s expensive and can be toxic to the dog.  Treatment has the potential for many complications and requires many visits to the veterinarian.  There are no cutting corners with this treatment.  Treatment routines will involve blood work, x-rays, multiple injections, and possible hospitalization.  Prevention is key to keep your dog healthy and avoid this costly and potentially life-threatening disease. Multiple products are now on the market.  These products come in the form of injections, topical liquids as well as chewable and non-chewable tablets.
Taking a dog regularly to the vet for yearly examinations, regular testing and maintaining prevention methods has the potential to prevent and/or detect heartworm and other diseases in your dog. Spending a little time and money now can prevent devastation and heartbreak later on down the line.



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