Vet Blog

How to Know if Your Dog Has Heartworms

April 18, 2019

Heartworms are one of the most dangerous types of parasites that can affect dogs in Cedar Park, TX.

Found across the country, the parasite larvae are spread by infected mosquitos who pass them into the blood of their next meal. Here, the larvae head to the nutrient-rich blood vessels of the heart and lungs where they grow, mature, and reproduce over and over until the blood vessels are blocked and there is irreversible damage to your dog's organs. Without treatment, a dog with heartworms is unlikely to survive.

If your dog hasn't had heartworms before, you probably don't know too much about how to spot a possible infestation. So, how can you tell if your dog is suffering from heartworms?

Heartworms Don't Produce Symptoms Immediately

One of the most important things to remember about heartworm infections is that it is virtually impossible to tell if your dog is infected for as many as six months after contracting the disease. Many people think that symptoms will become apparent immediately, but this is not the case at all. Once your dog is infected, it takes approximately six months for the larvae to mature enough to trigger symptoms. Therefore, if you suspect your dog has been bitten by a mosquito, you shouldn't expect to see symptoms any time soon. Similarly, it will be impossible to detect heartworms by a blood test for a number of months too. These are just a couple of the reasons why preventing heartworms is so much better and more valuable than treating the condition.

Lack of ability to tell if an animal has heartworms is also one of the reasons why annual testing is advocated for all dogs. Yearly heartworm testing is extremely valuable. In the event that your dog does have heartworms, early heartworm testing will enable you to seek prompt treatment before he suffers irreversible damage to his health.

Signs and Symptoms of Heartworms

You would think that one of the easiest ways of telling if your dog has heartworms is to look for the symptoms of the condition. While eventually, this will be the case, initially your canine companion will try and mask the fact that he is unwell. This is an instinctive behavior that most animals have so that they do not appear vulnerable and weak. For this reason, disease and other medical problems, including heartworms, tend to be well established by the time owners notice there is an issue that requires professional attention and intervention.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't be aware of the signs and symptoms of heartworms - far from it. Even the most diligent of owners can sometimes be late with their dog's preventative medication, or not notice that their furbaby hasn't had the full dose due to spitting some out or being sick. Topical preventatives can be applied incorrectly, and this too can leave a dog at risk of heartworms. Therefore, it is beneficial to have a good understanding of the symptoms of heartworms which include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Other breathing problems
  • A soft, dry cough
  • Unwillingness to exercise
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloated chest cavity
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor quality coat

Although rare, in some cases heartworms can pass through the body to the brain. If this happens, your pet might experience blindness, seizures, seem confused or disorientated, or collapse.

Heartworms, like other parasites, can be prevented using the appropriate medication or treatment. There are various products available, and our expert veterinarians in Cedar Park, TX are happy to help you find the solution that is most suitable for your pet.

If you are concerned that your dog may have heartworms, don't put off getting an appointment with a professional. Our knowledgeable veterinary team would be happy to assess your dog for heartworms and get him the help and treatment he needs to make a successful recovery. Please contact us at our animal hospital in Cedar Park, TX at (512) 259-4200.

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