A Pet Parent’s Guide To Heartworm Treatments

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
What is it, what should you look for and your options for heartworm treatments

Your dog is more than just a pet – he is a member of the family. That’s why you should do everything you can to protect him from preventable illnesses. Unfortunately, many dog owners do not know about some of the dangers that could affect their dogs and are thus unable to protect them. One of the dangers about which pet owners are largely under-educated is heartworm. Let’s go over the basics about what heartworm is, how and why you should protect your dog, and the heartworm treatments available to you.

What is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a parasitic organism called Dirofilaria immitis that infects the heart and pulmonary arteries. These tiny organisms travel through the dog’s bloodstream, damaging arteries and organs as they go along, until they reach the lung and heart chamber. This journey typically takes about six months to complete and as many as several hundred of these organisms can live in your dog for as long as seven years.

Related: Naturally Safe Mosquito Repellent For Dogs

The most common way heartworm is transmitted is through mosquito bites when the blood from an infected animal is transmitted to a healthy animal. In order for an infestation to occur, the animal must carry at least one male and one female heartworm so they can reproduce. The babies produced by female heartworms are called microfilariae and they can be present in an animal’s bloodstream without causing an infection – they must first be taken up by a mosquito. Once taken up by a mosquito, the microfilariae develop into larvae over a two-week period after which they are capable of causing an infection when transmitted through the blood into a healthy animal.

Signs and Symptoms

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about heartworm is that it may take several months for a dog to even begin to show signs of the disease – at this point the disease is likely in the late stages and treatment may not be effective. Some of the signs of heartworm infection include labored breathing, vomiting, coughing, weight loss and fatigue. A heartworm infection can only truly be diagnosed by ultrasound and blood tests administered by a qualified veterinarian.

Related: The Shocking Truth About Dogs and Garlic

If your dog does get heartworm there are several treatment options available – how well they will work depends on the progression of the disease, however. In most cases, treatment involves the injection of drugs called adulticides into the dogs muscle to kill the parasites. This treatment generally requires hospitalization though, in some cases, it can be performed on an outpatient basis. After treatment, dogs are required to undergo several weeks of exercise restriction.

Heartworm Treatments: Prevention/Protection

Though heartworm is a dangerous and often fatal disease, the good news is that it is entirely preventable. Giving your dog a monthly pill is all you need to do to protect him from heartworm. You will need a vet’s prescription for the pill and you can also consider a topical preventive as an alternative to the pill if you prefer. Some dog owners choose to only treat their dogs during mosquito season but it is generally recommended that you provide treatment all year round. If you aren’t already treating your dog with a monthly heartworm preventive, talk to your veterinarian about it as soon as possible. Dogs under six months of age can be started in the preventive immediately but dogs older than that must first undergo a screening to make sure they don’t already have the disease before starting them on the preventive medication.

Heartworm is a dangerous condition and one that can be fatal for your dog if it goes undetected. Do yourself and your dog a favor by preventing this condition with simple monthly medication – you won’t regret it.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

More by Kate Barrington