Heartworms are parasites that develop and reproduce inside your dog’s heart, lungs and blood vessels, getting their nutrition from the blood in your dog’s system.
But, how exactly do our dogs get these parasites developing inside their organs?
How Do Dogs Get Heartworms?
According to WebMD, Dogs can only get heartworm disease in one way, and that’s by the bite of a mosquito infected with the heartworm larvae.
From the time that your dog is bitten by the infected mosquito, it takes around 7 months for the larvae to fully develop into an adult heartworm, and then makes its way into your dog’s heart, lungs and blood vessels.
But, it doesn’t stop there.
It only starts reproducing there, eventually forming what can be up to 250 heartworms in your dog’s body.
Heartworm Symptoms In Dogs
At the beginning stages and when your dog is only first infected with heartworm larvae, no special symptoms appear that can tell you something’s wrong with them.
Even blood tests will not be able to pick up on heartworms developing inside your dog’s system during the early stages.
However, only after the original heartworm larvae matures and starts to reproduce in your dog’s heart, lungs and blood vessels will you be able to notice weird symptoms which will make it obvious for you that something’s not right.
There are many symptoms that start to show on your dog if they’re affected by heartworms, depending on what stage of heartworm disease they are in, which in turn depends on how many heartworms have developed inside their system so far, for how much time they have been there and how much your dog’s system can deal with them.
1) Stage 1 Heartworm Disease Symptoms:
Dogs in this stage of heartworm disease show no noticeable symptoms.
They could, however, develop a very minor cough.
2) Stage 2 Heartworm Disease Symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of stamina, easily gets tired when undergoing any exercise
- Liver and kidney problems that show up via tests
- Damage from heartworms which show via X-ray exams
- Coat becomes dry
3) Stage 3 Heartworm Disease Symptoms:
- Rapid weight loss
- More intense coughing
- More intense wheezing
- More difficulty breathing
- More serious liver and kidney problems that show up via tests
- More serious damage from heartworms which show via X-ray exams
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
4) Stage 4 Heartworm Disease Symptoms:
This stage is the most advanced stage of heartworm development in dogs, where dogs don’t have much time to live if they don’t get immediate surgical treatment (many dogs die even if they receive timely treatment during this phase of heartworm disease)
- Sudden collapse (fainting)
- Most intense coughing
- Most intense wheezing
- Most difficulty breathing
- Highest levels of serious liver and kidney problems
- Highest levels of damage that appear via X-ray exams
- Heart failure
Diagnosis For Heartworms In Dogs
The usual diagnosis procedures to find out whether your dog has heartworms or not includes the following steps.
- Complete revision of medical history
- Conduction of a complete physical exam
- X-ray exams
- Blood chemistry tests
- Blood count tests
- Heartworm antigen tests (which is usually most reliable in showing the presence of the worm in your dog’s body)
- Knotts test
- Urine analysis tests
Heartworm Treatment For Dogs
Most dogs with heartworm disease will require some sort of hospitalization, with the details depending on the severity of their condition (i.e from which stages we talked about they’re currently in and the length of time that’s passed since the development of heartworms in their system).
Sometimes, and especially when a large number of heartworms have developed inside your dog’s system, surgical intervention is required.
The veterinarians taking care of your dog will inform you of any lifestyle changes your dog has to go through, such as heavily restricted exercise and movement and dietary changes.
If left untreated and heartworms continue to develop in your dog’s system, your dog’s organs (heart, liver, kidneys and lungs) will eventually shut down, and your dog will die.
Heartworm Prevention In Dogs
Preventing heartworm disease in dogs is a much easier process than going about treating an existing condition of it.
There are many preventatives that are given to dogs on a monthly schedule that make sure to kill any heartworm larvae before it gets the chance to mature and reproduce inside your dog’s system, leading to all this mess.
The bare minimum for anyone who does not want to have their dog put on a schedule of preventatives given to them every month should make sure that their dog gets a preventative once every 2 years at the very least.
Talk to your veterinarian about this subject and they will tell you what heartworm medicine is best for you to go with, depending on your dog’s case, as there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to heartworms in dogs.
Puppies can, and should, be given heartworm preventatives as soon as they reach 8 weeks of age. But, again, discuss this matter with your veterinarian first as they are best equipped to determine if this is the case with your puppy or not.
Besides heartworm preventatives being given to your dog, your dog should be checked for heartworm development at least one time a year (again, talk to your veterinarian about this).
Can My Dog Give Me Or Other Dogs Heartworms?
Heartworms can not be passed on from your dog over to you, so you don’t have anything to be worried about as far as that’s concerned.
Also, the mosquito infected with heartworm larvae only affects pets 99% of the time.
In very rare occasions can a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae affect you.
Your dog also can’t pass on heartworm disease over to any other dog (or pet for that matter), as the only way that any dog can get affected by heartworm disease is by being bitten THEMSELVES by a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae.