Dog Heartworm Symptoms

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects dogs. Understanding the symptoms of dog heartworm is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. At Lake City Animal Hospital in Lake City, FL, we want to ensure that you are well-informed about dog heartworm symptoms. If you notice any of the signs discussed in this article, call us today at (386) 755-0236.




What Are Heartworms?

Heartworms are parasitic worms (Dirofilaria immitis) that live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected animals. They can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body. The disease is transmitted through mosquito bites, and once a dog is infected, the heartworms can grow and multiply, leading to significant health issues.

Early Symptoms of Dog Heartworm

Recognizing the early symptoms of heartworm disease in your dog is essential for timely intervention and effective treatment. These initial signs can be subtle, but understanding them can make a significant difference in your pet’s health.

Mild Persistent Cough

One of the earliest and most common symptoms of dog heartworm is a mild, persistent cough. This cough is often caused by the presence of heartworms in the lungs and the resulting inflammation. Unlike a typical cough caused by a cold or respiratory infection, a heartworm-related cough is continuous and doesn’t seem to go away with standard treatments.

Fatigue and Reluctance to Exercise

Dogs with heartworms often exhibit fatigue and a noticeable reluctance to engage in physical activities. This occurs because the heart and lungs are working harder than usual to circulate blood through the body. Even mild exercise can leave a heartworm-positive dog feeling exhausted.

Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss

A decrease in appetite is another early sign of heartworm disease in dogs. Affected dogs may show little interest in food and may lose weight as a result. This symptom is particularly concerning because it can lead to malnutrition and further weaken the dog’s immune system.

Moderate to Severe Symptoms

As heartworm disease progresses, the symptoms in dogs become more pronounced and severe. Recognizing these signs is crucial for getting your pet the urgent care they need. If your dog is exhibiting any of these moderate to severe symptoms, it’s vital to seek veterinary attention immediately.

Labored Breathing

As heartworm disease progresses, dogs may experience labored breathing or shortness of breath. This symptom is due to the increased pressure on the lungs and the heart, which makes it difficult for the dog to breathe normally. You may notice your dog panting excessively, even when at rest.

Swollen Belly

A swollen belly, or abdominal distention, can occur in dogs with advanced heartworm disease. This is often a result of fluid buildup in the abdomen, known as ascites, due to heart failure. The swelling can make your dog uncomfortable and may cause them to move or lie down differently.

Fainting or Collapse

In severe cases, dogs with heartworm disease may faint or collapse. This is typically due to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain because of the compromised function of the heart and lungs. These episodes can be brief but are serious indicators that immediate veterinary attention is needed.

Diagnosing Heartworm Disease

Blood Tests

Diagnosing heartworm disease usually begins with a blood test. The most common test is the antigen test, which detects specific proteins released by adult female heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream. This test can usually detect heartworms as early as six months after the dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito.

X-rays and Ultrasound

If the blood test indicates the presence of heartworms, your veterinarian may recommend X-rays or an ultrasound to assess the extent of the infection and its impact on the dog’s heart and lungs. These imaging techniques can provide a clearer picture of the severity of the disease and help guide the treatment plan.

Preventing Heartworm Disease

  • Monthly Preventative Medication: Preventing heartworm disease is far easier and less costly than treating an established infection. Monthly preventative medications are highly effective in protecting dogs from heartworm disease. These medications work by killing the heartworm larvae before they mature into adult worms.
  • Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for maintaining your dog’s health and catching any potential issues early. During these visits, your veterinarian can test for heartworms and ensure that your dog is on the right preventative regimen.
  • Mosquito Control: Since heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, controlling the mosquito population around your home can reduce the risk of your dog becoming infected. Use mosquito repellents, eliminate standing water, and keep your dog indoors during peak mosquito activity times.

Treatment of Heartworm Disease

Initial Stabilization

If your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease, the first step in treatment is stabilizing their condition. This may involve medications to reduce inflammation and manage any symptoms of heart failure. Your veterinarian will also recommend restricting your dog’s activity to prevent complications.

Adulticide Therapy

The primary treatment for heartworm disease involves medications called adulticides, which kill the adult heartworms in the dog’s body. This treatment is usually administered through a series of injections over several months. It’s crucial to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely during this period.

Post-Treatment Care

After the adulticide therapy, your dog will need to be closely monitored to ensure that the heartworms are effectively eliminated and to manage any side effects of the treatment. Follow-up blood tests will be necessary to confirm that the treatment was successful.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of heartworm disease can significantly improve your dog’s prognosis. By recognizing the symptoms of dog heartworm early, you can seek veterinary care promptly and increase the chances of a successful treatment. Regular heartworm testing and preventative care are key components of maintaining your dog’s health.

Taking Action Against Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is a serious condition that requires prompt attention and care. By being aware of the symptoms of dog heartworm and taking preventative measures, you can protect your dog from this potentially life-threatening disease. If you notice any of the symptoms discussed or have concerns about your dog’s health, call Lake City Animal Hospital today at (386) 755-0236. Our team is here to provide the care and support your dog needs.

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