All You Want To Know About Heartworms in Dogs

By | July 14, 2014

Heartworms in Dogs

Heartworms are certainly the most dreadful parasites affecting animals. Pet parents need to deal with these worms and combat its infection and diseases. It becomes easy to deal with parasites when you have absolute knowledge about them. Let us glance through the details of heartworms, its prevention and cure.

Heartworms, scientifically called Dirofilaria immitis are often found in domesticated pets like dogs, ferrets and cats. They are also quite visible in wild animals including foxes, wolves, sea lions and cats. These deadly parasites spread through mosquitoes. The mosquito sips in the larvae of these worms when it bites an already infected animal. When the same mosquito bites another animal, it transmits the larva to that animal.

Initially the larva lives in the infected animal’s skin. It grows there for nearly three months and then enters the heart of the animal. The adult form of these worms lives in the right side of the heart of the infected animal and start growing in size. It takes a heartworm at least 6-7 months to develop, mate and lay eggs. Therefore, a complete heartworm life cycle takes at least 6-7 months in dogs and 8 months in cats. The number of worms can reach to hundreds if the infection is very severe.

What are the symptoms of heartworms in dogs?

Heartworms can be deadly as they block the blood vessels that connect the heart and lungs. In extreme cases, the worms may enter the lungs and block smaller blood vessels of the lungs. This way, it affects the functioning of heart and lungs, which is fatal for the infected animal. Coughing, lethargy, potbelly, decreased stamina, sudden weight loss and reduced appetite are the common symptoms suggesting the presence of these worms. In worst case, the animal may die out of heart failure.

What is the best treatment for heartworms?

The first step is diagnosis of these parasites. Veterinarians go for a blood test to check the presence of D. immitis. It is believed that in certain cases blood test do not show accurate results and so vets check the possible symptoms. Radiographs and ultrasound are other methods to check if there is enlargement of pulmonary artery etc. These tests affirm or rule out the possibility of heartworms in a pet’s body. Once these parasites are detected, the next step is to cure them.

The best way to deal with these worms is to prevent them. Various monthly heartworm preventives are given to prevent these parasites from infecting the dog’s body. However, before that the pet needs to be checked for any existing heartworm infection. If the test is positive then, you need to wipe out those worms first and then start regular dose of preventives. Giving heartworm preventives while the worms are still there in the pet’s body may result in adverse reactions. Thus, it is advisable to proceed in accordance with the vet’s advice.


The treatment is done according to the severity of the worm infestation. In less severe cases, preventive treatments are given for around four months to eliminate the larvae and to reduce the size of the female worm. Then adulticidal drugs are injected in the pet’s body. Adulticidal drugs are given to destroy the adult worms found in the pet’s body. Also, as a part of personal care you need not exercise the pet during the treatment phase, as his body needs to be calm and relaxed.

To conclude, heartworms in dogs and other pets can have fatal effect on their health. Therefore, you need to give your pet monthly heartworm preventives. This will keep them safe all year round. Moreover, if the pet still contracts these worms then there is no choice but to treat them at the earliest. Follow a vet’s advice and proceed with the prevention program and the treatment.

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