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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The 20 worst foods for your dog to consume

 

As with much dietary advice, there is often confusion and sometimes conflicting advice about what is and what isn’t good for us to consume.  Food for dogs also falls into this zone as people are often unsure what foods are suitable for dogs and what foods aren’t.

Veterinarians advise that it is better to give dogs only food and treats designed for dogs.  In real life, many dog owners give their pets scraps from the table or use human food as a treat. So how can we be sure that what we are giving our dogs is not doing more harm than good?  In an attempt to make things a little clearer for dog owners, the following is our guide showing what NOT to feed your dog and the reasons why.

Avocado

avocado

A superfood for humans, but not for our canine friends.  Avocados contain a substance called persin, which causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

Alcohol

Not just restricted to beverages, this also includes food that contains alcohol.  Never give alcohol to a dog as this can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death.

Hops

This is an ingredient used in beermaking and just like the alcohol itself, is toxic for dogs, causing panting, an increased heart rate, fever, seizures, and can result in death.

Happy Farmer

Onions and garlic

Not only do these vegetables cause gastrointestinal upset, they can also damage red blood cells in dogs. This can be fatal.  It should be noted that garlic in very small doses could be OK for dogs, but larger quantities are dangerous. Because of this, it is recommended to steer clear of garlic.

Coffee, tea, caffeine, and chocolate

All of the above items contain methylxanthines, specifically caffeine in coffee and theobromine in chocolate.  These cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, arrhythmia, seizures, and can also result in death.  Even though these products have different levels of methylxanthines, it is best to avoid any kind of chocolate and caffeine entirely.

dog-eyeing-chocolate-cake

Grapes and raisins

Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure.  Experts do not entirely understand why this is the case, but it is simply advised that dogs do not consume these fruits because of that potential outcome.

grapes

Milk and dairy products

Dogs do not produce large quantities of the lactase enzyme, so are unable to break down the lactose in dairy products.  Although small amounts of dairy products can be tolerated, larger quantities are likely to result in gastrointestinal upset.

Nuts

Macadamia nuts are particularly problematic. Although excellent for humans, these nuts cause weakness, tremors, vomiting, and hyperthermia. Not all nuts are bad for dogs, but the high fat content can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and can ultimately lead to pancreatitis.

macademia-nuts

Bones

Although this may sound like a good idea, stick to raw bones. Never ever give chicken bones, as these are too fragile for your dog. Cooked bones can splinter and cause a choking hazard for dogs.

Fat trimmings

Feeding your dog with these can result in pancreatitis in dogs, so should be avoided.

Liver

Liver contains a lot of vitamin A, which although good for humans can adversely affect a dog’s muscles and bones.

Citrus

Although it is ok to eat small amounts of the actual fruit, other parts are toxic to animals.  Keep peel, leaves, and stems away from dogs as the oils can affect the central nervous system.

orange-peel

Corn on the cob

Although dogs can tolerate some vegetables, corn on the cob is not well digested in a dog’s stomach. If your dog eats a large amount of the cob itself, look for signs of gastrointestinal upset or constipation as there may be an intestinal blockage.

Persimmons, peaches, and plums

The seeds of all these fruits can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction. The pit of a peach is particularly dangerous to a dog’s health as it degrades to hydrogen cyanide when metabolized.

peach

Coconut and coconut oil

Small amounts of the flesh may be eaten, but this can sometimes result in vomiting and diarrhea. Never give your dog coconut with the shell still on, as this can result in choking or even abdominal obstruction.

Raw meat and fish

Consuming raw fish on a regular basis can actually lead to a vitamin B deficiency in dogs. This may shows as a loss of appetite initially, followed by seizures, and possibly death.

Salt

Just as with humans, consuming large amounts of salt leads to excessive thirst in dogs.  It can also result in sodium ion poisoning, so salty snacks should be avoided.

Yeast dough

Raw dough can continue to rise inside the dog, causing bloating and intestinal discomfort.  It can sometimes result in a twisted stomach, which is a life-threatening condition.

dog-looking-at-raw-dough

Mushrooms

If they are store bought mushrooms, chances are that your dog will not have an allergic reaction.  Do not attempt to give your dog wild mushrooms as there is a higher potential that these may be toxic.

Xylitol

Used as a sweetener in many different applications including gum and candy, xylitol can cause insulin release, which leads to liver failure. The increase in insulin leads to hypoglycemia. Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of coordination. These symptoms can progress to seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days. Avoid this product entirely.

gum

What to do if your dog consumes these items

If your dog consumes any of the above foods, but currently shows no symptoms, call your local poison control center straight away for advice. The ASPCA poison control number is (888) 426-4435 and there may be a fee applied for a consultation. For all other cases take your pet immediately to an animal emergency hospital or your local veterinarian.

As always, if in doubt about what is best for your dog’s health and welfare, consult with your veterinarian.

 

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