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What is Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

heartworm disease in dogs

Heartworm disease in dogs is caused by worms that live in their internal organs, particularly their heart. This causes the dog to become infected and can lead to serious health problems. When left untreated, it can even cause death.

Luckily, pet owners should know that it’s entirely possible to prevent and treat heartworm in dogs. In this post, we’ll discuss what heartworm is, how it’s spread, and what measures can be taken to protect dogs from it.

What is Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

Heartworm disease in dogs, simply known as dog heartworms, is a parasitic disease. It’s caused by a species of roundworm called Dirofilaria Immitis.

These worms can cause serious and life-threatening health problems if left untreated. They can live in the heart, lungs, and other internal organs where they can block blood vessels and cause inflammation or infection.

It takes about 6-7 months for tiny heartworm to grow into their adult versions. During this time, your dog should slowly start showing noticeable signs of infection.

How is Heartworm Disease Spread?

Heartworm in dogs often spread through mosquito bites because they carry the larvae of heartworm. When a mosquito bites your dog, it can leave behind an egg or small worm, which then develops into its adult form in your dog’s internal organs.

Once it reaches sexual maturity, it will start reproducing inside your dog’s body until it overwhelms their system.

How is Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?

Heartworm disease in dogs is typically diagnosed with a simple blood test. This will detect the presence of antibodies that are produced by the body to fight the infection. If these antibodies are present, it’s a sign of an active infection, and further tests may be done to confirm diagnosis.

That said, there are some signs of heartworms that dog owners should watch out for, too.

Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

We’ve talked about this in more detailĀ in another article, but here are some of the main signs and symptoms of heartworm disease to watch out for:

  • Lack of energy or activity
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the abdomen or legs

Heartworm is often a silent disease, so even if your dog is not showing any symptoms, it’s important to get them tested regularly.

How to Treat Heartworm Disease in Dogs

The good news is that heartworm disease can be treated in dogs if caught early. Again, “caught early.”

Depending on the severity of the infection, there may be several treatment options for infected dogs. Some veterinarians may suggest medications like Melarsomine dihydrochloride, the main ingredient in Diroban and Immiticide.

This medication can kill even adult heartworms, which are typically immune to other types of treatments.

Sadly, in some cases, vets may need to perform surgery to remove the worms or any damaged tissue. It’s not a recommended course of action though, as it also comes with its own risks and drawbacks.

As always, it’s best to talk to your vet and follow their recommendations when it comes to treating heartworm in dogs.

Preventing Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent heartworm in dogs.

The best way to heartworm disease is to give your dogs monthly preventatives like Heartgard. These drugs work by killing any larvae that get into your dog’s system and preventing them from maturing.

It’s also important to have the vet regularly test your dog, even if they’re on a preventative. That way, you’ll be able to catch any infections early on and start treatment right away.

Last but definitely not the least, try to reduce your dog’s exposure to mosquitoes. Keep them indoors as much as you can, especially in areas where the population of mosquitoes is high. You can also use mosquito repellents or insecticides around your home because they provide extra protection.

Your dog may enjoy rolling in grass, but believe us, heartworms aren’t a risk that you want to take.


Now you know the basics of heartworm disease in dogs. Remember, prevention is the best medicine, so always make sure that your dog is on a preventative!

For more tips like this, don’t forget to check out the PetFitness blog!

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