Heartworm in Dogs: Symptoms and What to Watch For
Heartworm in dogs is a potentially life threatening condition that is becoming increasingly widespread. Luckily, there are ways for dog owners to prevent this parasitic infection in both their cats and dogs. However, it is still a good idea for dog owners to be generally aware of the symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs.
Early signs of heartworm infections in dogs are often difficult for dog owners to spot, and it mainly just consists of a cough. As the heartworm infection progresses, the symptoms become more severe. Signs of a severe heartworm infection consist of lethargy, difficulty breathing, and other very serious symptoms.
In this article, we will be explaining everything that dog owners need to know about heartworm disease in dogs. This will include what symptoms of heartworm disease dog owners should look out for, how heartworms in dogs can be prevented, and how the condition is diagnosed and treated. Let’s get into it.
What are Heartworms?
Heartworms are internal parasites that infect the cardiovascular system of dogs and cats. These tiny worms primarily live in the bloodstream and the heart itself.
How do Dogs Get Heartworms?
Dogs get heartworms by being bitten by a mosquito that is infected with heartworms. When the mosquito bites the dog, the heartworm larvae travel from the mosquito into the dog’s bloodstream. If the dog is on heartworm prevention medication, the heartworm larvae die soon after entering the host. If the dog is not on heartworm preventative medication, the larvae will mature and eventually reproduce.
How Widespread is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is more widespread today than ever before. Heartworm is no longer isolated to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Unfortunately, this means that any dog in the United States could be at risk of catching this disease.
Are There Different Stages of Heartworm Infections in Dogs?
Like many other diseases, there are different stages of heartworm infections in dogs. Stage one heartworm disease is considered the least severe, while stage four heartworm disease is considered the most severe. Here is a bit more about the four stages of heartworm disease in dogs.
Class 1 Heartworm Infection
A class one heartworm infection occurs just after a dog gets infected with the disease. Dogs with this stage of the disease will likely show no symptoms at all. However, a mild cough is possible at this stage.
Class 2 Heartworm Infection
A class two heartworm infection occurs as the heartworms start to mature. Symptoms are still pretty mild at this stage, and not all dog owners may notice them. A cough and some mild lethargy are possible at this stage.
Class 3 Heartworm Infection
A class three heartworm infection is much more severe than a class one or two heartworm infection. During this stage, a dog may have a cough that is very severe. They may also have difficulty breathing and make strange sounds when they breathe. Much more extreme lethargy is likely at this stage. Having a pot belly, weight loss, and a reduced appetite occurs as the condition progresses.
Class 4 Heartworm Infection
A class four heartworm infection is also often referred to as caval syndrome in dogs. This stage is characterized by complete organ failure, and sadly most dogs with a stage four heartworm infection will end up passing away.
What are the Symptoms of a Heartworm Infection in Dogs?
Knowing the signs of heartworm infection is important for all dog owners because the earlier a dog gets treatment the more likely they are to survive. Here is a complete list of symptoms of heartworm infections in dogs.
- Having difficulty breathing
- Labored breathing
- Making strange sounds when breathing
- A weak pulse
- A reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- A pot belly appearance (very severe)
- Pale gums (very severe)
- Dark-colored urine (very severe)
If you notice any signs of a heartworm infection in your dog then you should take them to the vet immediately.
Signs that You Need to Take Your Dog to the Emergency Vet
Dogs should be taken to the emergency vet immediately if they are showing signs of a stage 3 or stage 4 heartworm infection. That is, if you notice any signs of heartworm disease other than mild lethargy and a mild cough.
How are Heartworm Infections Diagnosed in Dogs?
Heartworm infections in dogs can be diagnosed through a blood test. If the test comes back positive, your vet may also want to perform a radiograph, ultrasound, or echocardiography to find out the severity of the infection.
Can Dogs be Treated for Heartworms?
Luckily, dogs can be treated for heartworms. Most of the time dogs are treated with a heartworm dewormer medication. In most cases, vets will also advise dog owners not to exercise their dogs until they are cured of the heartworm infection. They may also advise additional care to make your dog more comfortable during the treatment.
In very severe cases, dogs may require surgery. During this surgery, the vet will physically remove adult heartworms from the dog’s heart and blood vessels. This increases their chance of recovery, though it is slight.
What is the Prognosis for Dogs With a Heartworm Infection?
The prognosis for dogs with a heartworm infection varies depending on what stage it was caught in. Generally, the prognosis is the best for dogs that are treated with a stage one or two heartworm infection. This is because most otherwise healthy dogs that receive treatment at these stages make a full recovery. The prognosis decreases sharply for stage 3 and 4 heartworm infections, which are much more deadly.
Can Heartworm in Dogs be Prevented?
Yes, heartworm infections can easily be prevented with monthly heartworm prevention medication. These medications kill the heartworm as soon as they enter your dog’s body, which does not allow a heartworm infection to occur. In addition to heartworm prevention medication, it is a good idea to annual test your dog for a heartworm infection. This will help you catch a heartworm infection early if one does occur, making treatment easier and more effective.
Looking for heartworm prevention for dogs near Palos Heights, IL? Reach out to Palos Animal Hospital at (708) 448-6600! We can help diagnose your dog if you believe they have heartworm, and we can always get them started on heartworm prevention!