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Protecting Your Dog From Heartworm Disease

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What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm is a life-threatening parasitic disease that can affect any dog. The heartworm parasite is spread by mosquitos, which puts dogs in areas with a high concentration of mosquitos at a greater risk of contracting heartworm. Once the parasite has entered a dog’s bloodstream, it lives in the heart and surrounding blood vessels, where it can produce offspring and grow up to 12 inches in length. Heartworm is a serious problem because it constricts the dog’s hearts by limiting blood flow and damages other internal organs. Untreated, heartworm is usually fatal.


You can watch out for these common heartworm symptoms at home:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue or lack of interest and energy
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • A rough coat

If you are concerned about your pet, bring them to your veterinarian immediately. Blood screening and x-ray can effectively detect the disease.


Although heartworm cases can be successfully treated with drugs, the best cure is prevention.

Preventing a parasite infestation before it can harm your pet is the safest and least expensive option. When administered properly, preventative medications are extremely effective at protecting your pet from heartworm. There are various types of medications available, including injectables, monthly topical medicine, and monthly chewable tablets. Keep in mind, it is crucial to consult with your veterinarian before beginning any of these medications. Your veterinarian will have the best understanding of the local heartworm prevalence and your dog’s individual risk. Furthermore, all dogs should be tested for heartworm before starting a preventative program because the medication could cause a severe reaction in a dog affected with heartworm. Even dogs that are taking preventative medicine should be tested regularly to ensure the medicine is providing them complete protection, especially if a dosage has been missed.


Other Parasites


Hookworm is transmitted by the ingestion or skin penetration of hookworm larvae from the stool of an infected animal. Once the larvae have infiltrated the body they hook onto the intestinal wall and feed on the host’s blood. It is very important to keep your pet free of these parasites, as hookworms can infect humans as well through contact with soil contaminated by the feces of an infected dog or cat. Fortunately, most preventative heartworm medications also protect your dog against hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. You can also help protect your pet from hookworm with good hygiene and regular veterinary checkups.


Roundworms are round-shaped parasites that live in the dog’s intestines and consume their partially digested food. The parasite is transmitted through larvae in feces, ingesting a contaminated animal, or from a contaminated mother to her puppies in utero or through her milk. In dogs, roundworm leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and in extreme cases pneumonia and intestinal obstruction. If you notice a spaghetti-shaped worm in the feces or vomit of your pet, these are roundworms. Like hookworm, roundworm can also infect humans, so it’s important to make sure your pet’s preventative medicine protects against roundworm.  



Whipworm is contracted through ingestion of the parasite’s eggs, which can occur just from a dog walking on infected ground and later licking his paws. Within one to three months after the eggs have been swallowed, they will hatch in the dog’s intestine, where they attach to the intestinal wall and suck their host’s blood. Whipworm can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and even anemia. Infection in humans is very rare, but it is still important to make sure your dog is protected against this dangerous parasite.