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What You Need to Know About Heartworm


"Heartworm" - you've heard the word, likely from friends, the vet, advertisements, or elsewhere. But what does "heartworm" really mean in regard to your pup's health? Here's what you need to know about heartworm and why staying on top of your dog's heartworm medication is key!

What is heartworm?

Heartworm is, unfortunately, as unpleasant as it sounds. Heartworms are foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels of an animal. They can live inside their host for their lifespan and produce more worms while they live.

How serious is heartworm?

Heartworm is always a serious threat, and sadly, can be fatal. Due to the worms taking up space and living in the your dog's organs, this can cause lung disease, heart failure, and subsequent damage to other organs. If undetected, heartworms can live for five to seven years and do serious damage to your dog's body.

How is it spread?

Heartworms are spread through the bites of mosquitoes. The worms live inside mosquitoes in order to be transported to their host (another animal). Once the mosquito bites your dog, the worms are then introduced into your dog's bloodstream and are able to mature. 

How will I know if my dog has heartworm?

Heartworms can be detected through a heartworm test. Unfortunately, they can't be detected until at least six months after the mosquito has bit your dog, so this is the earliest you would be able to tell if your dog is infected. The earliest symptoms include a cough and being tired out from activity quickly. If your dog is showing these symptoms and you know that they might have missed a heartworm medication dose, be sure to take them to your vet for a test.

Is my dog at risk?

Every dog is at risk of heartworm. While certain states have been found to have a more prevalent population of heartworms, it has been reported in all 50 U.S. states. If you live along the Gulf coast, the Mississippi River, or the Atlantic Coast, then your dog is at an increased risk of being infected with heartworms. 

How can I prevent my dog from getting heartworms?

The answer is simple: preventative treatment! You have likely heart of medicine like "Heartguard" before. This medication is preventative and protects your dog against heartworm infections and other parasitic infections. There are multiple brands of chewable medication that you can give your dog as a "treat" once a month. You can also opt for an injection, which must be done at the vet, but lasts longer (typically 6 to 12 months). Other options include a topical application, much like the topical flea and tick products you might use. All of these are simple and relatively inexpensive ways to help protect your dog from these nasty worms! For each medication, you'll simply need a prescription from your vet's office.

You can read even more about heartworms on the FDA's page here. The most important thing is that you're keeping your dog safe while they gallivant around in the summer sun!

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