Heartworms are a common problem in dogs but they are sadly easy to keep your dog from getting in the first place. There is only one way to get heartworm, despite what you may have heard. In fact, there is a lot of misinformation out there in regard to heartworms. We’d like to clear this all up for you and talk about the facts and myths regarding heartworms in dogs.
Heartworm is a devastating illness but it can be treated. There are also products that you can use during treatment to help your dog maintain healthy blood vessels and remain calm during those critical weeks that follow. For information on these products and more information on heartworm in dogs and other animals, check-out our pet store.
Truth or Myth?
Dogs can get heartworm from an infected dog. MYTH
Dogs can only get heartworm in one way, the bite of a mosquito that injects microfilaria into their bloodstream. This goes through several life cycle changes before it becomes adult heartworms. There is not an issue or health problem until the life-cycle is complete and adult worms begin to infest the heart and lungs.
Puppies can be born with heartworm passed from their mother. MYTH
Again, they only get heartworm from mosquito bites. The life cycle of the heartworm progresses slowly. It takes approximately 6 months from initial infection from the bite to the point that the worms are adult and large enough to cause heart damage. This means that until a puppy is 6 months old, he cannot have heartworm yet, even if he has been infected. Putting a puppy on heartworm prevention early, before 6 months of age, will ensure that he never develops adult heartworms even if he has been infected.
Heartworms eat the heart. Truth
As the heartworm progresses through life-cycle changes it gets larger. It initially passes through the heart as a particle in the blood. Eventually, the worm gets to the adult stage and is too large to pass through the heart and is trapped within it, where it feeds on the heart muscle, causing damage to the heart that will eventually kill the animal.
Heartworm is a death sentence. MYTH
It used to be a death sentence because there was no treatment. There is now a treatment for animals who test positive for heartworm and the treatment is better than it used to be as well. Countless dogs that are brought in as strays to animal rescues and county animal control facilities are tested positive for heartworm and are being successfully treated and going on to have good lives.
Humans don’t get heartworms. MYTH
Don’t panic. While you can be infected with them by being bitten from a mosquito, they don’t reach the adult stage in humans. Our bodies effectively prevent them from living in our blood. In humans, it will migrate to the lung and create a lesion that might look like a tumor, but is not cancerous.
Heartworms can be prevented cheaply. Truth.
For the cost of a 6-inch sub sandwich, a monthly pill can be given to your dog that will prevent heartworm from ever developing and causing health issues for your dog. It essentially kills them before they grow and become problematic but doesn’t prevent the initial infection from mosquitoes.
There are no symptoms. Somewhat true.
In the beginning stages, there are no symptoms of heartworm at all. Only when the adult worms begin to fill the heart muscle and the lungs will your dog develop a cough. In time, it will grow worse and blood loss to the brain can occur. Dogs may faint from blood loss and they will eventually die if the heartworms are left untreated.
Heartworm treatment is overly expensive. Somewhat true.
In comparison to other medical procedures, it’s not considered extremely expensive but it isn’t nearly as affordable as simply treating with preventative care each month. You can expect heartworm treatment to be $500-$1000 and with pre-treatment tests and bloodwork, it may run up to $1500 in total.
Dogs who exercise after heartworm treatment can die. Truth.
When the worms die in the heart and lungs, they break into pieces as the body begins doing the work of breaking them down to remove from the body as waste. During this time, they can clog the lungs, arteries or pulmonary vessels. It is essential that owners keep dogs as quiet and calm as possible, which is difficult. Owners often feel sorry for their dog and let them out to play and run. It’s this sort of exercise that can ultimately cause death. Dogs need to be kept calm and quiet for several weeks to months after treatment.