Heartworms are foot-long worms that live in the body of an affected animal. They live in the lungs, heart, and the associated blood vessels. Heartworms can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, and damage to other body organs.


Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal disease that affects pets everywhere. It affects dogs, cats, ferrets, and wild animals like foxes, wolves, and coyotes. In some rare instances, the disease can affect humans.


Dogs and Heartworms


Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms. Heartworms that live in the dog’s body mature into adulthood, mate, and produce baby worms. If not treated, heartworms can increase rapidly. Many dogs have been known to have hundreds of worms inside their bodies.


Heartworm disease can greatly affect the dog’s health and overall quality of life long after the worms have gone. Heartworm prevention for dogs is the best way to protect the pet. Where treatment is required, it needs to be administered early to ensure effectiveness.


Heartworm Disease Transmission


Heartworm disease is often transmitted from one infected dog to another through mosquitoes. Adult heartworms in the pet’s body produce microfilaria or baby worms that circulate in the animal’s bloodstream. When the mosquito bites the infected dog, the blood meal from the animal will include baby worms.


The worms mature within 10 to 14 days, reaching the infective stage. When the mosquito bites another dog, it deposits the larvae into the new host. It can take about six months for the larvae to mature into adulthood.


Signs of Heartworm Disease


During the early stages of infection, most dogs exhibit few or no symptoms. As the infection persists, symptoms begin to show. Signs that can indicate that a dog has heartworm disease include fatigue, weight loss, reduced appetite, and mild persistent coughing.


The dog may be reluctant to exercise, and as the disease progresses, the dog may experience heart failure. Excess fluid can cause the belly to appear swollen. Pale gums, dark urine, and labored breathing can be signs of blockage of blood flow due to heartworm infection. 


Risk of Heartworm Infection


Determine if your pet is at risk of getting a heartworm infection. The truth is that your pet may be at risk even if the issue is not a problem in your location. A pet in your neighborhood may have come from a location where the infection rate was high.


You may also unknowingly travel to a location where your dog may become infected. Stray dogs and wild animals are often carriers of worms. Mosquitoes can travel great distances, spreading the disease everywhere.


Getting Your Dog Tested for Heartworms


It is a good idea to get your dog tested for heartworms. The earlier heartworm disease is detected, the better the prognosis. Early treatment will improve the chances of the pet recovering. Your veterinarian will administer the heartworm test that requires a small blood sample.


The vet will test the blood to determine if heartworm proteins are present. The vet clinic can process the tests or send the samples to a diagnostic laboratory. Dogs need annual heartworms testing. If your dog tests positive, treatment should begin immediately.


For more on testing your dog for heartworms, contact Montana Veterinary Hospital & Boarding at our office in Bozeman, Montana. You can call (406) 586-2019 today to schedule an appointment.