What is heartworm disease, and how can it affect my dog?

Heartworm disease is a blood-borne parasite transferred to your dog by mosquitoes.

Dr. Adam Stout
Cloverleaf Animal Hospital

How would my dog catch heartworm?

What happens is that a mosquito will bite an infected dog already carrying heartworms, take a little blood sample, come to your dog, and bite it. That little bit of bite and blood transfer will transfer the baby heartworms into your dog's bloodstream.

Can dog heartworm be prevented?

Yes, we recommend several monthly preventatives here at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital to prevent your dog from getting heartworm disease. These can be anything from a topical to an oral to an actual shot to prevent heartworm disease.

What are the signs in my dog that would indicate they may have heartworm?

Initially, there may not be signs, or they may be very mild signs. One routine thing we see here at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital is a dry, persistent hacking cough. They may not be feeling good; they may just be a little off. Maybe some weight loss.

What are some middle- to late-stage symptoms of heartworm?

Some of the further stages or problems with heartworm disease that become advanced would be more difficulty breathing. Their cough becomes worse, and their breathing becomes labored. You would definitely see weight loss, a descended abdomen because of fluid. As a veterinarian, I'll listen, and I may hear a heart murmur. A lot of things may be nonspecific to an owner, but things they would key us in about, Hey, this may be what's going on.

What can be done to stabilize my dog's heartworm disease?

One of the first and most important things is testing. We do an in-house test that tests these dogs for heartworm. It usually takes about eight minutes to run off a small blood sample. Once that disease is diagnosed, we stage where your pet is at with the signs of the heartworm disease they're showing. Based on the information we gather from the physical exam and the test, we go off the standard set by the American Heartworm Society, which is all laid out in a protocol on how to treat these patients.

How soon should I bring my dog in to see a veterinarian for heartworm prevention?

As soon as you can, especially if you don't currently have that pet on one heartworm preventative. We like to have all our puppies tested. The young ones should have their first test done by one year of age. After that, we recommend a yearly heartworm test. Our heartworm test is also a tick test, which checks for Lyme disease and two other tick diseases. But anytime your pet is not currently on heartworm prevention, we need testing as soon as we can. Like I said, with puppies, by a year of age and then that yearly test.

How will a veterinarian diagnose if my dog has heartworms?Through a blood test that we run in-house. We can send blood work out to test, and that's initially right off the bat. It's just that initial test.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heartworm so important?

Early detection is very important because the earlier we detect this disease, the sooner we can handle and treat it. The further it goes in your pet without being diagnosed, the more the disease progresses. This can be a fatal disease if not diagnosed and treated correctly. So it is one of those things that the earlier we can detect it, the earlier we can get on the protocol and get the treatment done.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (330) 948-2002, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.