A dog can only get heartworms from the bite of a mosquito infected with the heartworm larvae. Once a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, it takes approximately seven months for the larvae to develop into adult heartworms. One matured, the heartworms take up residence in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels and begin to reproduce. An adult worm can grow up to twelve inches long and has a lifespan of five to seven years. A dog can end up with as many as 250 worms in its body.
What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm in Dogs?
Initially, there will be no signs indicating that the dog has heartworms. However, as more and more worms crowd the heart and lungs, the dog will most likely develop a cough. As heartworm disease progresses, the dog will become more easily winded. With severe heartworm disease, a vet will hear abnormal lung sounds, the dog may pass out from loss of blood to the brain, and fluids will be retained. If no treatment is given, eventually the dog is likely to die.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Heartworms?
Because there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected, prevention is vitally important. The good news is that heartworm in dogs is easy to prevent. For around the cost of regular trips to Starbucks, you can prevent heartworm disease in your dog. Preventative treatments range from monthly pills and monthly topicals applied to the skin to an injectable product that lasts six months. Here are some dos and don’t’s of heartworm prevention.
- DO make sure that you are using a product that is an actual heartworm preventive. There are a lot of parasite protection treatments on the market, and it’s easy to become confused. Dedicated flea and tick products won’t protect your dog from heartworms.
- DON’T overlook the fact that many heartworm pills and topical products also protect against other parasites, such as intestinal worms, fleas, ticks, and mites.
- DO talk to your vet about what product offers the best protection for your dog.
- DO make sure you give your dog his heartworm preventive medication on time, every time. Whether you are administering a monthly pill or spot-on medication or you go to your vet for a semi-annual injection, consistency is essential.
- DON’T relax and stop treatment because the weather is colder, and you haven’t seen a mosquito lately. Heartworm preventives are designed to work retroactively by eliminating new infections that were transmitted months earlier.
- DO take your dog to your vet for regular checkups that should include a test for heartworm infection. Because it takes about six months for an infection to be detected, regular testing will help ensure early diagnosis and treatment.
- DON’T skip testing because your dog is on year-round heartworm prevention medication. While your dog will most likely be ok, if you have missed a dose or been late with it, an infection opportunity may have been created. Also, your dog may have spit out the medication or rubbed it off if it was administered topically.
Don’t Wait Until Your Dog Has Heartworms
The main thing to remember is that heartworms in dogs are difficult and costly to cure, but easy and inexpensive to prevent. So take prevention to heart (pun intended) and do everything you can to keep your dog free of heartworms. And, if you live in or near Columbia, SC, and your dog needs emergency treatment, CVETS will do everything we can to help your dog recover.