May 24, 2019 3 min read

April is Heartworm Awareness Month, so it's time to take an extra look at how you can protect your furry family members from this preventable killer. Heartworm prevention should always be at the forefront of your pup's care, and never an afterthought. Is your dog currently on a heartworm preventative? Read more to know the facts and discuss your heartworm prevention techniques on the Jolly Pets Playhouse Forum. Not signed up for the Playhouse yet? You can sign up on the Jolly Pets website, here.

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworms are parasitic worms, formally known as Dirofilaria Immitis, and are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Although the disease can also be found in cats and ferrets, dogs are the only definitive host of heartworms, making them more susceptible to both the contraction and progression of the disease. Being a definitive host means that the heartworms can mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring within the dog. This puts dogs at a much higher risk of serious health problems as a result of contracting heartworms. Potential health problems include severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and ultimately, death.

What are the Signs?

There are many factors that contribute to the amount and severity of heartworm symptoms. It largely depends on the number of worms or "worm burden" a dog has, how long the dog has been infected, the overall activity level of the dog, and how your dog's body reacts to the worms in general. With that being said, there are four general stages of heartworms that carry their own set of signs and symptoms.

  1. Stage one displays no or very mild symptoms, such as an occasional cough.
  2. The second stage will include mild to moderate symptoms, such as a cough and lethargy after moderate activity.
  3. Stage three is when symptoms become more apparent and noticeable. A persistent cough, lethargy after mild activity, trouble breathing, and signs of heart failure are common. Also, changes in the heart and lungs become evident on chest x-rays.
  4. Stage four is the most dangerous stage, that often results in Caval Syndrome. Caval Syndrome occurs as a result of an extremely heavy worm burden that blocks blood from being able to travel back to the heart. Caval Syndrome can only be treated by emergency surgery to remove the large mass of worms that is blocking the blood flow. With that being said, not all dogs who contract heartworms will develop Caval Syndrome. However, if left untreated, heartworms will result in severe damage to the dog's heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys; eventually resulting in death.

Although these signs and symptoms are good indicators, it is still important that you get your dog tested for heartworms on a regular basis. Yearly testing could mean the difference between life or death for your dog. Since many dogs can be asymptomatic in the beginning, regular tests can catch the disease before serious damage is caused.

How to Prevent

There are a variety of preventative measures for you to consider. Monthly chewables, topical treatments, and injections are all options for administering heartworm preventatives. Comprehensive heartworm treatments are also available, that will protect your dog from other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, fleas, ticks, and ear mites.

Always discuss treatment options with your vet. Veterinarians are well-versed in which parasites are common to the area they practice, so it is best to consult them on what will be the best fit for your dog.

It is important to keep in mind that heartworms have been diagnosed in dogs throughout all 50 states. This is why year-round prevention is crucial, regardless of what state you live in. Even during the months that mosquitoes aren't active, continuing treatment will ensure that your dog is always protected.

Do's & Don'ts

For more helpful hints, follow this guide to heartworm protection, provided by the American Heartworm Society.

Learn more about heartworm prevention from theAmerican Heartworm Society.