Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Heartworm disease is a serious and possibly fatal disease that can affect your dog. This disease is caused by parasitic worms and spread to your pup through bites from infected mosquitos. These dangerous parasites can live in your dog's heart, lungs and blood vessels. Here, our Wake Forest vets share information to help you protect your pet.

What is heartworm disease? 

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis. In dogs, heartworm disease is found all over the world. There are over 30 species of mosquitos that can transmit heartworms to our canine companions. 

If your pup is bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will take up residence in your pet's body, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring all inside your pet's lungs, blood vessels and heart. This can cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to numerous organs. 

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

In its early stages, many dogs show few-to-no symptoms of heartworm disease. But, as it progresses into its more advanced stages, symptoms can range from difficulty breathing and a mild cough to abnormal fatigue, decreased appetite and loss of weight. 

In advanced cases of heartworm disease, pets may develop heart failure and you will notice the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the dog’s abdomen.

How is heartworm disease detected?

Your veterinarian will be able to run blood tests that can help detect proteins that are released by heartworms into your pup's bloodstream. The earliest that these proteins can be detected is about 5 months after your dog's initial infection. 

Because of this, it's best that you have your pup tested at least once every year for heartworms and to administer preventative treatments. At North Wake Animal Hospital, we can't stress enough that prevention of heartworm disease is much preferrable than treating the disease in its advanced stages. 

What are the treatment options for heartworm disease?

Here are some of the treatment options available to your dog if they are diagnosed with heartworm disease. Your vet will be able to help you to choose which option is right for your companion.

Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is injected into the pet's back muscles to treat heartworms. This drug is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in pets.

Alternatively, topical solutions that are FDA-approved can be applied to your pet's skin to help to kill parasites in your pet's bloodstream. 

It is important to note that, treatment for heartworm can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to your dog.

Because treatment requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections treatment of heartworm disease for your pet can be very expensive.

How can I prevent my dog from getting heartworm disease?

Your vet likely offers heartworm prevention treatments. Even if your dog is taking these kinds of preventative medications, annual blood tests for heartworm is still recommended. 

Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the disease. The prevention treatment may also protect your pet against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.

Contact your vet to book an annual heartworm preventative appointment for your dog.

Contact our North Wake Animal Hospital team in Wake Forest for more information about heartworm disease, including advice on preventative treatments for your pup and diagnosis if you suspect your dog is suffering from heartworm disease.