Heartworm Disease in dogs is a parasite that is transmitted through a bite from an infected mosquito. It takes approximately 7 months for the larvae to mature into adults at which time the worms lodge themselves in the heart, lungs and the blood vessels surrounding these structures. The adult worms can grow up to 12 inches long and can survive for 5-7 years. Symptoms include a cough, inability to exercise, fever, poor hair coat and in severe cases abnormal lung sounds can be heard. If heartworm disease is left untreated in dogs, they will die. Diagnosis is established through a simple blood test. Heartworm prevention is much less expensive than treatment and is as easy as giving a treat once a month.

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If a dog has heartworms, what symptoms should I look for?

There usually aren’t any symptoms initially. As the worms mature and take up more space in the heart, lungs and blood vessels, the dog can develop a cough, the inability to exercise as they will become short of breath, fever, poor hair coat and in severe cases they will have abnormal lung sounds upon auscultation.

How does a dog get heartworms?

Heartworm is contracted through a bite from an infected mosquito. It is the ONLY way that heartworm can be transmitted. It is not contagious from animal to animal. Heartworms cannot complete their life cycle in humans, and therefore it would be rare for the worms to be found in humans.

What are the treatment options for heartworms?

The best and safest way to treat an animal with heartworm is to start with bloodwork and radiographs. It helps to determine the severity of the disease. There are a few different options for treatment, but all of these are injectable and must be given multiple times to kill the adult worms.

Why is recovery for heartworm treatment so challenging?

The treatment of heartworm can take several months to complete. Once your pet’s overall health has been assessed, treatment can begin. It will start with a series of injections that will kill the adult worms. These worms will die and dissolve over time. After this, treatment involves killing the microfilariae, which are the baby heartworms. During the entire process, it is critical, for the survival of your pet, to keep them as quiet as possible. It involves restraining to a kennel or small area in your house and only taking them out on a leash to urinate and defecate. In some cases, they may have to be hospitalized. Too much movement while the worms are being killed can cause the worms to move around the body and clog up arteries causing death.

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