Dog Heartworm: What Is It and Why Should I Prevent It?

Dog Heartworm

Dog heartworm is a parasitic roundworm spread by mosquitoes. Heartworms can affect cats and other animals as well as dogs. These parasites are referred to as "heartworms" because they infest the right atrium of their host's heart when they become adults and enter the reproductive stage of their life cycle. Rarely, dog heartworms can end up infecting other parts of the body such as an eye, the brain, or an artery, leading to blindness, lameness or seizures. Dog heartworm is a serious condition that can be fatal.

Dogs can remain symptom-free for as long as six months after infection, as the heartworms mature within the dogs' bodies. Many dogs may show no symptoms even after the dog heartworms have matured and moved to the heart. This may be because the infection is mild or the dog is not very active. Active dogs with severe infections will cough, and tire easily with exercise. Advanced symptoms include weight loss, fainting, coughing up blood, and congestive heart failure. Your vet can diagnose dog heartworm with a blood test. Your vet may also perform x-rays to determine the extent of any damage caused by dog heartworm.

Treatment of dog heartworm is long, difficult and dangerous, involving medications with potentially hazardous side effects and, sometimes, heart surgery. Many dogs succumb to the complications involved with treatment. That's why it's a good idea to take preventative action to keep your dog from getting sick with dog heartworm in the first place. There are several good preventative medicines on the market that can protect your pet from dog heartworm. Your vet can help you determine which one is best for you.