Heartworms. The word alone conjures up some pretty frightening images, and if you’re getting a puppy then you’ve every right to be concerned! Nobody wants heartworms affecting their adorable young puppy. But exactly how common – and how serious – are heartworms in puppies?
Unfortunately, heartworms can actually be very serious. Fatal, in fact. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent heartworms from ever infecting your dog. And even if your dog does get infected, treatments exist for getting rid of heartworms.
What Are Heartworms in Puppies? What Causes Them?
Heartworms are parasites that live in your dog’s blood. They are generally introduced into the bloodstream by mosquitos, who carry the heartworm larvae with them.
After your dog has been by bitten a worm-laden mosquito, the worms will begin to grow in their bloodstream. It takes just over 6 months for these worms to mature.
Symptoms & Problems With Heartworms
Once the worms mature, they become large enough to obstruct your dog’s blood vessels. They often get stuck in the pulmonary artery which can restrict blood flow throughout the body.
After the worms are mature, the female worms start to produce microfilariae. These are basically the prototype worms – the ones that will infect a mosquito if it bites your dog. This is how the heartworm reproduces and continues to spread.
Once your dog is affected by heartworms they will likely experience some of the following symptoms.
- A mild, but persistent cough
- Difficulty or resistance to exercise
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fatigue, especially after activity
- Decreased appetite and related weight loss
- Heart failure (in the later stages)
- Fainting (in the later stages)
- Swollen belly due to water retention (in the later stages)
As you can see it’s very important to treat your dog before the problem becomes serious. If you don’t get your dog treated, it could die.
Diagnosing & Treating Heartworms
To diagnose your pup, your vet will retrieve a small blood sample. Within a few minutes they’ll be able to tell you whether or not your dog has mature heartworms.
Unfortunately, due to the way the test works, it’s difficult to identify young worms which means your dog can’t be diagnosed until they’ve had the worms for at least 7 months!
Once your dog is confirmed to have heartworms, your veterinarian will proceed with the treatment. First, your dog will receive antibiotics for a month. This weakens the heartworms in preparation for the worm-killing agent called adulticide.
During this time your dog should avoid intense exercise. The effects of exercise (increased heart rate and blood pressure) can aggravate the symptoms of heartworm disease. Little bits of dead heartworms can also break off and get jammed in your dog’s arteries or lungs.
You’ll want to avoid exercise for a month before treatment and for about 2 months afterwards.
Heartworms are a potentially serious problem that should be treated by a veterinarian. Heartworms might come from mosquitos, but it’s also important to keep your dog safe from other illnesses like the Salmonella outbreak in dog treats.
Aside from that, keep your dog healthy by making sure their diet is good, they exercise regularly and they get all their vitamins.