Elkins Park, PA vet

Heartworm and your Dog

written by: Sandra J Platt VMD

How does a dog get Heartworm Disease?

All it takes is one mosquito bite to transmit microscopic heartworm larvae, which grow into full-grown heartworms. The mature worms then set up shop in the right atrium of the heart where they cause damage to the atrium itself, lungs, and arteries.

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

Treating Heartworm Disease is complicated, expensive, and dangerous - requiring confirmatory tests, months of exercise restriction, visits to specialists, emergency treatment if things go wrong, and injections of arsenic-derived Immiticide.

The good news…. to stop transmission just give a soft, chewable tablet once monthly. You can get Heartgard from your vet or with a prescription.

Even better, just three drops of blood can tell us whether your dog has Heartworm Disease and requires treatment. Annual testing for Heartworm Disease allows us to catch the disease before it becomes a problem - long before the cough, which can indicate worms have already travelled to the heart.