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Heartworm disease and dogs

Updated on December 6, 2008

Learn symptoms of this devastating disease

Heartworm: the name of this disease effectively depicts this deadly condition caused by adult worms living along the pulmonary arteries and within the right ventricle of the dog's heart. Not many owners are aware of this condition, but veterinarians are working hard on educating owners of dogs, in particular those living in highly infested areas. Because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, this condition is unfortunately found almost all over across the globe.

Prevention is the key for avoiding this unforgiving, deadly disease. All dogs should be put on monthly heartworm preventative pills. Dogs should also be screened for heartworms via a blood test prior to being put on heartwom preventatives. Common heartworm medications prescribed are: Heartgard, Revolution and Interceptor.

Failure to provide heartworm preventatives, heightens greatly the chances of a dog getting heartworm disease. The chances are even greater in dogs living mostly outdoors in humid, mosquito infested areas such as along the Mississipi River and the Atlantic and Golf Coasts.

Any dog that is not on heartworm medication or that has skipped doses should be evaluated immediately if exhibiting any of the following tell tail symptoms of heartworm disease:


-Sputum with blood

-Rapid breathing

-Intolerance to exercise

-Weight loss

-Prominent ribs


-Bulging chest



The symptoms depend on the number of worms present, their location and the size of the dog. In severe cases, the worms migrate to the narrow branches of the pulmonary arteries forming a clot that obstructs the normal blood flow. Such instance translates in a case of thromboembolism which can turn out being deadly. When the worms lodge in the heart valves instead, they cause effects similar to a heart condition named, chronic valvular disease. Worms found along the hepatic (of the liver) veins will cause jaundice, spontaneous bleeding, abdominal swelling and anemia.

While being a potentially dangerous disease, when caught early,heartworm disease may have a good prognosis. However, there are considerable risks associated with treatment. One of them being toxicity of the drug used to kill the worms and the second being the risk of the dead worms obstructing the lungs and causing death due to thromboembolism.

Thankfully, heartworm disease can be prevented easily. Owners of Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shephards should consult with a vet since these breeds are known to not tolerate Ivermectin. Because of the considerable risks involved with treatment, preventing heartworms is definetly the best course of action. At your dog's next veterinarian appointment, inquire about heartworm disease, it is surely better to be safe than sorry.


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