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July 2024

Heartworm: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

CareHealth & Nutrition

What are Dog Heartworms?

Dog heartworms, scientifically known as Dirofilaria immitis, are parasitic worms that can cause serious health issues in dogs. These worms are transmitted through mosquito bites and settle in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of the infected animal. Heartworms can grow up to 30 cm in length and, if left untreated, can lead to severe lung disease, heart failure, and other organ damage.

How Do Dogs Get Heartworm?

Dogs contract heartworms through the bite of an infected mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it picks up microfilariae, which are baby heartworms. These microfilariae mature into larvae within the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another dog, the larvae are transmitted and enter the dog's bloodstream. Over the next few months, these larvae develop into adult heartworms, which can live for five to seven years within the dog’s heart and lungs.

Signs of Heartworm in Dogs

Detecting heartworm early is crucial for effective treatment. Here are some signs to look out for:

Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs

  1. Persistent Cough: A frequent, dry cough can be an early sign of heartworm disease.
  2. Lethargy: Dogs with heartworm may be less active and tire easily after moderate activity.
  3. Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss and decreased appetite can be indicators.
  4. Difficulty Breathing: As heartworms infest the lungs, dogs may show signs of laboured breathing.
  5. Swollen Abdomen: In severe cases, fluid may accumulate in the abdomen, causing it to swell.
  6. Heart Failure: Advanced heartworm disease can lead to congestive heart failure, marked by a swollen abdomen and difficulty breathing.

Dog Heartworm Treatment

Treating heartworm in dogs involves several steps and should always be done under veterinary supervision. The goal is to kill the adult worms and microfilariae while minimising the risk of complications.

Heartworm Tablets for Dogs

Heartworm tablets, also known as oral preventatives, can kill the larvae and young worms. These medications are typically administered monthly and are effective in preventing the development of adult heartworms. Some tablets also treat other parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms.

Heartworm Prevention for Dogs

Preventing heartworm is far easier and more cost-effective than treating an existing infection. Monthly heartworm preventatives, whether in tablet, chewable, or topical form, are highly effective.

Regular vet check-ups and annual heartworm tests can help ensure your dog remains heartworm-free. We recommend that a heartworm detection test is carried out prior to treatment if your dog is over six months of age.

Additionally, using mosquito repellents can reduce the risk of your dog being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Dog Heartworm Injection

Another prevention option is the heartworm injection, which provides long-term prevention. The injection, known as Moxidectin, is usually administered by a vet and offers protection for up to six months. This option is ideal for pet owners who prefer not to remember monthly tablets. Want to find a vet near you that offers heartworm injection? Why not try Petstock Vet?

Do you know about Petstock Vet?

Speak to your local vet for more advice and information. Or you can visit one of our Petstock VET clinics in your local area.

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Heartworm in Dogs FAQ

Dog life expectancy after heartworm treatment?

Most dogs recover well and can live a normal lifespan if treated promptly.

How do dogs get heartworm in Australia?

Dogs in Australia get heartworm from mosquito bites, just like elsewhere.

How common is heartworm in dogs?

Heartworm is more common in warmer regions where mosquitoes thrive.

How to treat heartworm in dogs?

Treatment involves medications to kill adult worms and larvae, often supplemented with supportive care to manage symptoms.