12 symptoms that could indicate heartworm in dogs

 

The weather’s starting to get warmer, you’re able to spend more time outside with your dog and all is good with the world.  You’re in the backyard ready to enjoy an evening kicking back and then you hear that all-too-familiar high-pitched buzzing sound. Yes, they’re back – mosquitoes!  For some people, mosquitoes are merely an irritation with bites leaving itchy welts on the skin, but many others fear the health issues that these tiny insects can bring in the form of malaria or the zika virus. Although many of us think about the effects of mosquitoes on humans, we sometimes overlook the harm they can do to pets in the form of heartworm.

 

A close-up of a mosquito on a white background
Mosquito

 

Heartworm causes serious disease in dogs affecting the heart, the lungs, and the blood vessels of the dog and ultimately it results in death. Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm that is spread to a dog if he is bitten by a mosquito.  It is the only way that dogs can get heartworm – it cannot be caught from another infected dog.  When a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the larvae migrate from the bite site to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and this takes approximately 6-7 months. During this 6-7 months, the larvae develop into adult heartworms.  These adults then make their homes in these organs and blood vessels and start to reproduce. Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long and can live for 7 years.  A dog can have as many as 250 worms in his system. If a dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it is likely that there will no symptoms for 7 months.

 

 

Heartworm lifecycle
Heartworm cycle. Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Animal Hospitals

 

 

Symptoms that your dog may have heartworm include the following:

Soft dry cough

This is from the heartworm multiplying in the lungs. The dog may cough more after exercise and may even faint.  Exercise does not need to be strenuous for this to occur.

Your dog becomes very lethargic

If your once active dog is suddenly not wanting to be active and preferring to sleep or rest rather going for a walk.  This may be a sign of heartworms.

Weight loss

Because your dog is so lethargic, even activities like eating can be too much effort.  As a result, the dog may choose to rest in preference to eating.  If a dog doesn’t eat normally, weight loss will likely result.

Rapid breathing

If your dog is experiencing difficulties in breathing, it may be due to heartworm.  If the lungs have heartworms living there, it can make breathing difficult and fluid can build up in the lungs and surrounding blood vessels.

Protruding ribs and bulging chest

The dog may look this way because of weight loss and because of fluid on the lungs.

Allergic reaction

Your dog may appear to be asthmatic or even allergic.  This is because of the build up of fluid and heartworm inhabiting the lungs.

Collapse

When there are large numbers of heartworm it can cause a blockage in the heart resulting in the collapse and ultimately the death of the dog.

Excessive sleeping

Nosebleeds

Seizures

Blindness

Lameness

The last four symptoms occur when heartworms end up in other parts of the body other than the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

dog examination by veterinary doctor with stethoscope in clinic

Diagnosis

As with many illnesses, the above symptoms can indicate other health issues, so vets have other ways of detecting heartworms.  Blood tests are a good way to determine whether there are heartworms by checking the presence of certain proteins (antigens) in the blood produced by heartworms.  The earliest this can be detected is at around 5 months after the dog has been bitten by the mosquito. X-rays, ECG, and echocardiography can also help to determine what is going on in the heart and lungs of the dog.

Treatment

Treatment is achieved by initially stabilizing the dog’s condition prior to the actual treatment beginning.  The veterinarian may start by giving the dog antibiotics (to eliminate the bacteria that the heartworm give out when they die), preventative treatments (to stop heartworm reaching adulthood by eliminating the larvae), and steroids (to stop inflammation).  The actual treatment can then begin and may be in the form of a series of injections to eliminate adult heartworm from the dog.  Your dog will need to be hospitalized for this process. Pre-treatment stabilization and treatment can take several months to achieve. Following this, the younger heartworm and larvae are eliminated.  In certain situations, surgical removal may be required.

Recovery

Following treatment, the dog will need to rest far more than usual.  Physical exercise increases the rate at which the heartworm will cause damage to a dog’s heart or lungs. A very active dog with only a few heartworms can be more at risk than a very inactive dog with lots of heartworms. Your veterinarian will advise when exercise can be resumed and this will need to be introduced slowly and gradually.   Six months after the treatment you will need to have your dog tested for heartworms again.  This is because the veterinarian needs to check that all heartworms were eliminated during the treatment process. The longer the time that heartworms are present, the more damage they can do.

Curious Puppy

The best approach to managing heartworms is to prevent them in the first place.  There are many products on the market that are designed to prevent a whole variety of problems ranging from heartworm to fleas in one single application.  These can be provided in the form of a pill or spot treatments applied to the skin.  These monthly treatments do not prevent heartworms but eliminate any larvae that have been acquired by the dog during that month.

It is always advisable to discuss heartworm concerns with your veterinarian. He or she can advise you on the best preventative measures to protect your dog from this parasite.

 

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Things to do with your dog

Mutual love
Mutual love

The love between dogs and humans is a mutual thing and we love nothing more than spending time with each other. However, at times we have to leave are beloved furry family members alone for a while and they can get bored. When we get back, we want nothing better than to make up for it and to give our dogs a chance to be active and release some energy. But at times, we get tired of playing the same games and going for the same walk all over again. That’s why in the next couple of articles I hope to give you some new ideas on things to do with your dogs to keep them active and happy.

In today’s article I’ll start off with a tip that is easily manageable: instead of going for that same old walk in the same old neighborhood, why not go somewhere new. This can still be close-by, in your own area, but just a different street or park than usual. Even deviating from your normal route or routes just by a bit well make the walk more exciting.

Or when you have some more time, in the weekends or on a day off, you could go for a drive and explore a whole new area, like a nearby forest. Your dog will love exploring new places with different sights and smells. You might even find some hidden gem which will become your new favorite place!

Off to explore!
Off to explore!

You don’t have to go to a new place every day, but it will be nice for both the two-legs and the four-legs to mix things up a bit occasionally. This will stimulate your minds and bodies. So give it a try and I’ll guarantee you’ll get a happier dog. Have fun!