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Heart Worm Disease in Dogs

Updated on September 18, 2015
A dog heart invested with mature heart worms.
A dog heart invested with mature heart worms.

Heart Worm Overview

Heart worm is a serious disease that can occur in dogs that will cause premature death if not treated. Heart worms are parasites that live in the heart and pulmonary systems of afflicted dogs. Heart worms travel through dog's vessels and arteries after infection eventually settling and staying in the heart where the continue to cause devastating damage to the vital organ. Hundreds of these parasites can live in a single dog's heart up to seven years.

Cause of Heart Worms in Dogs

Heart Worms are transmitted to dogs via a bite from a mosquito that carries "microfilariaes". Microfilariaes are taken up by mosquito and develop into an infective larvae inside the mosquito. When the carrier mosquito bites a susceptible dog the larvae enters the dog's bloodstream. These larvae then begin to travel through the dog's blood stream where they can grow up to 12 inches in length.

Symptoms of Heart Worms in Dogs

Cases of heart worms in dogs range from asymptomatic to having extremely severe symptoms. Cases of heart worms are broken into three classes, each varying in severity of symptoms.

Class 1

Dogs with a Class 1 case of heart worm disease are asymptomatic, meaning they show no outward signs of infestation. Dogs with a class 1 case of heart worm disease may sometimes exhibit a cough, although it almost always does not alert owners that there is a problem and the cough is simply chalked up to an average occasional cough.

Class 2

Class 2 cases of heart worm disease include mild to moderate symptoms including cough and tiredness after physical activity or aversion to exercise and activity.

Class 3

Class 3 heart worm disease cases are the most severe. Symptoms of class 3 heart worm disease in dogs include general lethargy, tiredness after activity, a constant cough, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and fainting.

Do you give your dog a preventive treatment for heart worm?

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Heart Worm Prevention in Dogs

There are multiple methods of preventing heart worms in dogs. The methods include topical treatments, injections, and monthly pills with the most common being monthly medication being administered to dogs at home by their owners. There are currently no proven natural ways of heart worm prevention that is endorsed by the FDA or veterinarian associations.

Heart worm medications work by killing larvae when they enter a dogs bloodstream, therefore not giving the larvae time to evolve into mature hearts which cause damage. It is important not to lapse heart worm treatments in dogs because larvae can mature into heart worms in as short as 51 days and over the counter medication is not effective in killing mature heartworms, only larvae.

As well as protecting against heart worms, heart worm preventatives can protect against other parasites which afflict dogs such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and tapeworms.

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