What You Need to Know About Heartworms

The month of April is dedicated to raising awareness about heartworms. It’s also the month to celebrate brunch, pecans, and poetry. While those are certainly more pleasant themes, heartworms are more our speed. These dangerous and repulsive worms are something that every dog owner should be aware of. Continue reading to learn some essential information about heartworms from a knowledgeable  Jensen Beach, FL veterinarian.

How Do Dogs Get Infected With Heartworms?

Heartworms cannot be transmitted directly from one dog to another. Instead, they are spread by mosquitoes. That means poor Fido can contract infections anywhere, even in the comfort of his doggy bed.

Typically, mosquitoes pick up heartworm larvae, also referred to as microfilariae, when they bite an already infected dog. The heartworms are then injected into the bloodstream of the next puppy that mosquito bites. Before long, they start to multiply and grow rapidly.

Are There Treatments For Heartworms?

There is a mix of positive and negative news here. On the bright side, there are various treatment options available. However, these options can be costly and can have a negative impact on your beloved pet. Limiting your pet’s activities during treatment may be necessary to prevent excessive strain on his heart. That means no vigorous activity and only brief walks. That’s not much fun for the dog!

In more serious situations, pets may require confinement in a kenne.l surgical intervention may be necessary for some pooches. Needless to say, that can be quite costly. 

How Often Should My Dog Be Tested For Heartworms?


Annual tests should suffice for most dogs. However, certain pups may require more frequent tests. For instance, a pup that spends time at parks and/or with other dogs would be at higher risk than one who lives alone. However, all dogs are at risk. Even a dog three houses down can infect Fido without direct contact.


Are Heartworms Becoming More Common?


Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. Just like with any type of medication or parasitic prevention, it seems that certain worms are developing resistance. In recent years, there has been an increase in the adoption and transportation of dogs across different regions, leading to a rise in cases up north. For instance, numerous individuals up north took in dogs from the South following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana is a heartworm hotspot, thanks to its warm and wet climate. So, it isn’t a surprise to learn that the number of cases rose in the north.


What Are The Warning Signs Of Heartworm Infestations?

The symptoms may vary slightly from dog to dog. It is possible that no noticeable symptoms will be observed until the worms have fully developed, which typically occurs after approximately six months. Typically, a dry, mild cough is the initial indication. You may also observe that Fido appears to be lacking in energy.

Here are a few indicators to keep an eye out for:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight Loss
  • Discolored Gums
  • Nosebleeds
  • Swollen Abdomen
  • Persistent Coughing
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Breathing Issues
  • Fatigue
  • Lack Of Interest In Play
  • Exercise Intolerance


If the infestation continues, more severe symptoms will gradually emerge. These symptoms can include fainting, staggering, and heart attacks. Regrettably, unexpected death can also happen.


What Animals Get Heartworms?


All canids are susceptible to heartworms. That includes not only dogs, but also their relatives, such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes. Cats and ferrets can also be affected. Interestingly, they have also been discovered in sea lions!


Kitties are also susceptible. Infestations in cats are relatively uncommon, as their bodies are not as conducive to worm growth as those of dogs. However, that doesn’t mean Fluffy is safe. Just one worm can result in lasting organ damage for a cat. Infested cats sometimes exhibit no symptoms, but then unexpectedly pass away. Stay on top of your cat’s preventative care as well.


How Often Should I Give My Dog Preventative Care?

It’s important to ensure that Fido stays up-to-date on his heartworm prevention. The exact schedule may differ according to the product being used. If he is on a monthly schedule, then yes, it would be necessary to administer it every month. There are now preventive products available that can provide protection for up to 6 or even 12 months.

Those who live in regions with a colder environment, such as Canada, might decide to pause Fido’s treatment during the winter months. If you’re a snowbird, that may apply to you. Although this is ultimately the owner’s decision, we would advise maintaining it, particularly as average temperatures rise. Consult with a veterinarian for personalized guidance.

When Are Dogs Most At Risk?

In most places, the highest risk is during the summer months, as that is when mosquitoes are most prevalent. However, the risk remains constant throughout the year in southern areas … such as here in Florida.

Where Are Heartworms Most Common?

Heartworms pose a potential threat in any area where mosquitos are present. Fido is susceptible to infection anywhere in the US or Canada. However, the states with the highest number of heartworm cases are typically found in regions with warmer and more humid climates. Unfortunately, Florida was on the list. Other states with high concentrations include Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

What Are Some Basic Heartworm Facts?

While you may not want to know much about them, it is important to be informed. 

Here are a few key things to know:

  • They look similar to spaghetti. (Disgusting)
  • The larvae can survive for about a month inside the mosquito.
  • There are over 70 different types of mosquitoes that can transmit heartworms.
  • Female heartworms can grow to approximately 10 inches in length, while males typically reach a length of approximately 12 inches.
  • Once a dog becomes infected, the worms typically take 6 to 7 months to reach their adult size and begin reproducing.

Can Humans Contract Heartworms?


Yes, humans can get heartworms. Thankfully, this is quite uncommon.


How Do I Protect Fido From Heartworms?


Keeping up with Fido’s preventative care would be the most important thing. Taking basic precautions to keep mosquitoes away won’t hurt, either. One option to consider is the use of sonic repellers. Creating a welcoming environment for pollinators and bats can also be beneficial. A solitary bat is capable of consuming 600 mosquitoes in a single night! Standing water becomes mosquito nurseries, so don’t let it collect on your property. Remember to empty buckets and plant pots after it rains.


What Will Happen If I Forget Fido’s Treatment?


Fido will need to be tested again before resuming. This is because the products that protect your pet from infestations cannot kill live worms. If your pet is already infested, preventive care alone won’t shield him from the worms that have already invaded his body. Ask your  Jensen Beach, FL veterinarian for further details.


Conclusion: While heartworms are very dangerous, with the proper preventative products there is no reason to be alarmed. Make sure to stay on top of your dog’s preventative care and be vigilant for any symptoms. Immediately contact your Jensen Beach, FL veterinary clinic for assistance if you observe any unusual signs.


Schedule An Appointment With Your  Jensen Beach, FL  Animal Hospital


Are you looking to ensure your dog stays updated with his heartworm medication? Is Fido in need of a check-up? Feel free to contact us, your trusted  Jensen Beach, FL pet clinic, at any time.

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