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Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog

The Ugly Truth About Heartworm Disease

Dog eating heartworm preventive chewable.

The team at Hanford Veterinary Hospital strongly recommends monthly heartworm preventive medication for your dog because we want your pets to live long, happy lives. Keep reading to see how heartworm can affect your pets and why a preventive is so essential:

Mosquitoes and Heartworm, a Deadly Combination

Mosquitoes are blood-sucking parasites. When they feed on blood from a heartworm-infested animal, they ingest mosquito larvae, tiny microfilariae. Infected mosquitoes, feeding on your pets, deposit the larvae into your dog’s bloodstream. Within months, the larvae grow into mature adults and reproduce, infesting your pet’s heart, lungs, and major blood vessels.

  • Adult heartworms can range in size from 6 to 12 inches long and are thick like strands of spaghetti.
  • They live in the heart muscle, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • They can block blood flow, causing heart and lung failure.

What Happens If My Dog Gets Heartworm?

You won’t notice anything when your pet is first infected. It takes time for the heartworms to mature, reproduce, and begin to affect your pet’s blood flow and breathing. Early symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy—Your dog doesn’t want to exercise.
  • Coughing—Your dog may cough after playtime or walks because it can’t get enough oxygen.
  • Persistent cough—Once the heartworms have infested the heart and lungs, your dog will have trouble breathing and will often cough to try to get more oxygen.
  • Weight loss—Your pet may not want to eat and begin to lose weight.
  • Dull coat—Because your pet struggles to breathe and it’s not eating, its coat will begin to lose its shine.

What Is the Treatment for Heartworm?

Heartworm treatment is always risky and not always successful. It’s also expensive—far more costly than the price of prevention. Treatment plans begin with diagnosis through blood tests and x-rays. Depending on the severity of the infestation, we may advise surgery.

  • Approved drug therapies are available, but can be toxic and cause blood clots that could kill your pet.
  •  If diagnosed with heartworm disease, your pet will need to be confined (kept inactive) for six months or longer.
  • Regular testing at the veterinarian will assess the status of the disease progression.

Is Heartworm Contagious?

Heartworm disease is not contagious. It is only transmitted through the mouth of an infected mosquito. Humans and most other house pets are not viable hosts for heartworms, although cats and ferrets may be at risk.

Prevention Is the Best Defense Against Heartworm Disease

At Hanford Veterinary Hospital, we are happy to recommend safe and effective heartworm preventive medicines. Call us today to schedule a wellness exam and consultation about how to protect your pets from heartworm disease and other parasites.

We’re here for your pets to help them live long, happy, and healthy lives.

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