Answers to the Top 3 Canine Heartworm Questions

Answers to the Top 3 Canine Heartworm Questions

By Dr. Marc Edward, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best, a pet insurance agency for dogs and cats.


1) What are heartworms, and how do dogs get them?

Heartworm disease, or dirofilariasis, is a potentially serious disease seen primarily in dogs throughout the United States and other areas. Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitos, which means dogs that spend even a short amount of time outside are susceptible to the disease.

Transmission occurs when a mosquito bites an infected host that is shedding microfilariae, or immature heartworms. The microfilariae develop within the mosquito until it bites a new host and the larvae are transmitted. This is important because without the mosquito, heartworm disease cannot be contracted. Once inside the new host, the heartworm larvae migrate and develop until reaching their ultimate destination in the pulmonary arteries. Once in the pulmonary arteries, the adult heartworms start producing microfilariae and the life cycle starts over.


2) What are the signs and symptoms of heartworm disease?

Due to the systemic nature of heart problems, many different symptoms are possible with heartworm disease. However, dogs with heartworm disease are generally classified into one of four categories of symptom severity:

  • Class 1 animals generally have no clinical symptoms, with the exception of a possible mild cough.
  • Class 2 dogs may experience coughing, fatigue and weight loss, but not heart failure.
  • Class 3 canines may have constant fatigue, persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, liver problems and may experience congestive heart failure.
  • Class 4 dogs have all of the previously mentioned symptoms and often experience liver failure, low blood pressure, shock and death.


3) How is heartworm disease prevented and treated?

Preventing heartworm disease in canines is very easy, relatively inexpensive and generally safe. Heartworm disease can easily be prevented by administering a monthly preventative heartworm medication. There are a variety of products available in today’s market, but they do require a prescription from a veterinarian. Additionally, many heartworm products also help prevent and treat other types of parasites. Your veterinarian can help you decide which product is best for your dog in your area.

Treating heartworms in a dog can range from very easy to very difficult. In mild cases of heartworm disease, an animal may be able to be treated with a series of injections to kill the adult heartworms. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the worms. Some cases with heavy infestations cannot be treated successfully.

Heartworm disease is a common and widespread problem in dogs. I strongly recommend talking with your veterinarian about the best way to control and prevent this mosquito-driven disease. The Pets Best BestWellness plan covers preventative heartworm medication.

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