Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal infection caused by heartworms, a type of roundworm, that live in the heart, lungs and surrounding blood vessels of affected animals. Although it can be successfully treated, a heartworm infection can cause lifelong damage to the heart, lungs, and other organs in the body.

How heartworm is spread

Mosquitos can carry heartworm larvae and pass the larvae on when they bite a dog. The larvae then travel through the dog’s body until they reach the blood vessels in the lungs and heart. The larvae stay in those blood vessels and mature into adult heartworms, up to 12 inches long, a process that takes about 6 months. Adult heartworms reproduce and release immature heartworms into the dog’s blood, which are then passed on to mosquitos when they bite the dog, and the cycle continues.

Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states.

Diagnosing heartworm

The earlier heartworm disease is diagnosed, the better your dog’s chances of recovery. And, because there are few, if any, early signs of the disease, it is important to have your dog tested annually. A simple blood test will reveal the presence of heartworms.

If your dog does show signs of heartworm disease, they might include coughing, exercise intolerance, and poor body condition.

Preventing heartworm

To protect your dog from heartworm disease, it is essential that you give him a heartworm preventive on the same day each month. It is also wise to consider a product that repels mosquitos, which will help prevent your dog from getting bitten in the first place.

At your dog’s annual preventive care exam, we’ll also test for heartworm, which will ensure that the preventive has been effective. Your dog will be at increased risk of heartworm infection if:

  • A dose of preventive medication was missed
  • A dose of preventive medication was given late
  • The preventive was spit out or vomited by the dog

The longer a heartworm infection goes untreated, the more dangerous it can become. Heartworms can affect a dog’s health and quality of life long after they have been treated and are gone.

If it’s time for your dog’s annual preventive care visit and heartworm test, if you need your dog’s heartworm preventive refilled, or if your pup is showing signs of a possible heartworm infection, contact us.