What Are Heartworms?


Heartworms are parasites that live in the blood vessels and heart of dogs.

Heartworms are long, skinny worms that sort of look like spaghetti and cause heartworm disease, which can be lethal. Because heartworms live inside the heart, too many of them can cause the dog's heart not to work very well and the dog can get sick. In small dogs, a few worms can cause a big problem.

Dogs get heartworms when an infected mosquito bites them.

Which dogs get heartworm disease?
Heartworms occur in ALL breeds of dogs: both large and small, short-haired and long-haired, inside-dogs and outside-dogs.

There are no symptoms at all until the disease is very advanced. Then, the symptoms are those of congestive heart failure: dull coat, lack of energy, coughing, difficulty breathing, tiring easily, listlessness, loss of weight, perhaps fainting spells, and an enlarged abdomen.

If an animal is diagnosed with heartworms, treatment is necessary. Before the worms can be treated however, the dog must be evaluated for heart, liver and kidney function to evaluate the risks of treatment. Usually the adult worms are killed with an arsenic-based compound.

After treatment, the dog must rest (restricted exercise) for several weeks so as to give its body sufficient time to absorb the dead worms without ill effect. Otherwise, when the dog is under exertion, dead worms may break loose and travel to the lungs, potentially causing respiratory failure and death.

By far, the best way to battle heartworm disease is through prevention. A monthly heartworm pill must be obtained by your veterinarian. If your pet is not currently on heartworm preventative, your pet MUST be tested for heartworms FIRST before being prescribed a monthly preventative.

Preventive doses come in oral and topical versions and are only available from a veterinarian.