Vet Blog

7 Facts Dog Owners Should Know About Heartworm Disease

May 04, 2022

Heartworm disease is a scary and constant threat to dogs. Especially for those in the southern states, because of our hot and humid weather.

According to the American Heartworm Society, which conducts a nationwide incidence survey every three years, North Carolina ranks #7 among the states with the highest rates of heartworm-positive pets. Heartworm disease is prevalent here in the Carolinas and has been diagnosed in all states throughout America. Unfortunately, heartworm disease is a fatal disease in dogs and can be easily prevented.

We know you want to do everything you can to keep your furbaby healthy, so our College Road and Carolina Beach vet teams are here to help you and your dog. Keep reading to learn more about heartworm disease and seven facts you may not know.

How do our pets get heartworms?

Heartworms are spread through mosquito bites. The American Heartworm Society explains that they ingest the heartworm larvae when a mosquito bites an infected animal.

The larvae will grow into the infective stage while inside the mosquito. When the mosquito moves on and bites the next dog, they come across and transfer the larvae into the pet. The immature mosquitos then migrate from the bite into the bloodstream and then to the heart, where they will continue to mature and cause signs of disease. From the time of the bite to when the worms are developed and able to be detected is about six months.

Dogs are organic heartworm hosts, which means the worms will mature and multiply in the heart. Because of this, the worms will continue to reproduce, and there can be hundreds of worms living in one dog.

The symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs.

In the beginning stages of heartworm, many dogs may not show symptoms. The longer the infection goes on, the more the symptoms will develop and the worse it will be for your pup.

Dogs heavily infected with heartworms, those with other health problems, or even active dogs often will eventually show noticeable signs. Signs of heartworm disease can include:

  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • A mild persistent cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Reluctance to exercise

As heartworm disease progresses, pets can experience heart failure and a swollen belly because of excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with many heartworms can develop a sudden blockage of blood flow within the heart, causing an eventual cardiovascular collapse.

Heartworms are life-threatening for dogs.

The worms' existence causes several many challenging problems for infected dogs. The worms will trigger an inflammatory reaction that can lead to permanent lung scarring and damage.

Additionally, worms will collect in the lung and heart vessels as they reproduce, in turn blocking proper blood flow. Eventually, congestive heart failure will begin, leading to death without treatment.

Heartworm infection is silent until significant disease is present.

Since larval heartworms take about six months to mature, heartworms won't accumulate in the body and cause symptoms for a year or so.

The experts at College Road and Carolina Beach recommend annual heartworm testing to ensure your pet is parasite-free and not carrying a developing infection. Pets on year-round prevention should also be tested because only one missed dose can leave them subject to getting the disease.

Heartworm disease treatment is tough on dogs.

Heartworm disease treatment is lengthy, costly, and complex. A toxic mixture is created to eliminate the worms and is injected into the dogs' muscles. At the same time, other prescribed medications will manage inflammation and kill the bacteria that come with the worms.

Dogs require several therapy options and will undergo strict exercise restrictions during the treatment period.

Heartworm disease is preventable.

Heartworm prevention will add to your annual pet care costs, but disease treatment is so much more costly; financially and emotionally.

Avoiding heartworm disease is as simple as giving your pup a monthly chewable medication or topical preventive.

All dogs should receive year-round heartworm prevention.

North Carolina winters by the coast can get chilly, but the temperatures do not become cold enough to kill off the mosquito population. Mosquitoes will lie dormant, waiting for that one warm day to become active. Because of this, year-round heartworm prevention is crucial to protect your dog.

As spring and summer creep in, heartworm-carrying mosquitoes will dominate in our state and will, unfortunately, find your pup.

Contact us today to schedule your pet's annual wellness check and heartworm test while stocking up on needed heartworm prevention products!