Dog Heartworm - Discovering Dog Heartworm

What is heartworm disease, and how can it affect my dog?

Heartworm disease is the name of a disease caused by the parasite heartworms. They grow in the lung vasculature, the vessels of the lungs, and can, in their late stage, cause severe disease including respiratory disease and heart failure.

Dr. Glennie Ferniany
Village Veterinary Clinic

How would my dog catch heartworms?

Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, and unfortunately, in Alabama, the mosquitoes never really go away, which is why year-round heartworm prevention is important.

Can dog heartworms be prevented?

Yes, there are a number of different preventions available on the market, everything from topical preventions, which can be used in dogs that don't take pills well, to injectable preventions that last year-round. They are all effective and good quality.

What are the signs in my dog that would indicate they may have heartworms?

While some dogs can be completely asymptomatic, others show lethargy, persistent cough, and sometimes weight loss.

What are some middle to late-stage symptoms of heartworms?

In the late stages of the disease, we can hear abnormal sounds when they're breathing. They can have difficulty breathing, which kind of looks like bulging ribs. They can have a very large liver, so a kind of pot-bellied appearance, and sometimes on exam, we hear a heart murmur.

What can be done to stabilize my dog's heartworm disease?

Early treatment is key. We will often use a drug called Diroban, which is an imidacide therapy. It kills the adult heartworms. While we do that, we try to control the inflammation with steroids, and sometimes we will use an antibiotic called doxycycline to target a bacteria that lives in heartworms called Wolbachia. These can all help to make the treatment more effective. While they're going through treatment, it is important to keep your dog exercise confined because we don't want those worms shedding into the lungs and causing worse disease.

How soon should I bring in my dog to see a veterinarian for heartworm prevention?

We can start heartworm prevention as young as six weeks of age. So really that very first puppy visit is when you should be talking to your vet about heartworm prevention.

How will a veterinarian diagnose if my dog has heartworms?

We use a simple blood test to diagnose heartworm disease. It takes a drop of blood and is quick and easy to run in the clinic. Sometimes we will send blood out to a lab if we are concerned about a hard-to-detect or occult infection.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heartworms so important?

The longer heartworms stay within the lungs, the more damage they do, and sometimes that damage is irreversible. So early treatment and, of course, ongoing prevention is really important in dogs. If you have questions regarding dog heartworm, give us a call. We want you to be well prepared in the case of this serious disease in dogs.

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