Vet Blog

The Dangers of Heartworms in Dogs

April 28, 2019

When you first become a parent to a precious pooch, your head will probably be swimming with the many different things that you have to learn.

What to feed him, how much exercise to give him, and how to house-train him are often at the top of your list of priorities. However, something that should certainly be one of your immediate concerns should be preventative care and wellness - including medication like heartworm preventative. Dogs are more prone to parasitic infections than humans are. One of the most serious parasites that could pose a risk to your canine pal if she isn't properly protected is heartworms.

What Are Heartworms?

As their name suggests, heartworms are a parasitic worm that lives inside your pet, using their blood as a food source. Heartworms predominantly live in the heart and lungs of dogs, although they have also been found in other areas of their bodies. They also live in the associated blood vessels which act as an all-you-can-eat buffet for these deadly parasites.

Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There are around 30 different species of mosquito capable of carrying and transmitting the heartworm virus. When they bite your pet, they transfer heartworm larvae, known as microfilaria, into her blood where it spends six months traveling to the heart and lungs. During this time, they mature into adults, each around a foot long and capable of reproducing microfilaria of their own. This enables the number of worms inside your pet to grow, particularly since heartworms have an average lifespan of around five years.

What Makes Heartworms Dangerous for Dogs?

In addition to depriving your pet of some of the nutrients she needs to remain healthy, there are much more serious consequences of heartworm infection. As the adult worms invade the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, they take up space. This compromises the function of these organs and the flow of oxygenated blood around the body, causing further damage to body systems and her organs, including her heart, kidneys, and liver. Sometimes the damage is irreparable. As the number of worms continues to grow, the effects become more and more pronounced. Eventually, if your dog is not treated, the heart and/or other organs will fail, and she will likely die.

Since it is impossible to tell which mosquitos are carrying heartworm disease and which aren't, it is recommended that dogs are given the appropriate preventative to stop them from being infected. Veterinarians now advocate preventatives against heartworms for all dogs in all U.S. locations including our area of Memphis, TN.

Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs

While conscientious preventative care should keep your dog safe from heartworms, it is still very valuable to understand the symptoms of the condition. Sometimes a dog may fail to receive the entire dose of their preventative without even the most dedicated owner realizing - for example, being sick after taking their tablet or going out in the rain after a topical application - and this could make them at risk of heartworms. Being able to recognize the symptoms of heartworms means that in the unlikely event your furbaby is infected, you can obtain a diagnosis and start treatment very promptly, reducing the risk of permanent damage to her health.

Symptoms of heartworms to look out for include:

  • A persistent, dry cough
  • Coughing or fainting after exercise
  • Lethargy
  • Refusing to play/exercise
  • Bulging chest
  • Collapse

How to Choose a Heartworm Preventative

Heartworm preventatives can only be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian. Therefore, your vet in Memphis, TN will be able to help you choose the heartworm preventative that is most suited to your pet. This could be a chewable tablet, a spot-on treatment, or even an injection. Your vet at Memphis Animal Clinic will talk you through how to administer your chosen product and talk to you about the importance of maintaining a strict schedule of preventative care so that there aren't any gaps in her protection when she could contract heartworms.

If you have any more questions about heartworms, or if you are ready to start your dog's protection against this potentially deadly disease, please get in touch with our veterinary team at (901) 272-7411.