Dog Heartworm Disease - Prevention & Treatment of Dog Heartworms


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

Simply put, heartworm disease is an illness spread by mosquitoes. And just because you have more of an indoor dog doesn't mean that it can't happen. Mosquitoes can fly into your house and bite your pet and inject the larvae there. That can lead to really serious heart and lung effects. It can really hurt the circulation of your blood, which can systematically really affect the dog.


Dr. Lander
Advanced Animal Care in Richmond

How would my dog catch heartworms?

Mosquitoes bite the animal and inject the larvae that way.

Can dog heartworm be prevented?

Absolutely. I will say no prevention is 100%, but the best chance is by receiving prevention, whether it be orally, topically, or an injectable from your veterinarian.

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

Early on, you'd see weight loss and lethargy—those are the big ones to look for.

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

Abnormal heart and lung sounds, especially if we hear a heart murmur. There could also be an enlarged liver.

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

Come to a veterinarian. That's where it would be diagnosed. We’ll stabilize it by providing oxygen support, fluids to help perfusion, and just giving the dog general treatment ASAP.

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

That first puppy vaccine appointment is really a good time to start prevention. There are ones labeled for anywhere from six to eight weeks.

How will a veterinarian diagnose if my dog has heartworms?

It's a simple blood test, at least here It's called a SNAP test, 4DX. We just take a few drops of blood and drop them into a reagent. It runs. It's about 10 minutes and we have our diagnosis.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heartworm so important?

All of that's really important because the symptoms can get a lot worse and it can be fatal if it continues to progress.

How long does treatment take?

It takes months. We have to give multiple injections certain months apart. We have to do a regimen of antibiotics to kill Wolbachia, a symbiotic bacteria. It's all silly. There has to be strict cage rest, as in no strenuous activity. It's a lot going on.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 202-3641, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Heartworm Disease - FAQs


Dr. Lander
Advanced Animal Care in Richmond

How is heartworm prevented in dogs?

The best way to prevent heartworm disease in dogs is by getting a product from your veterinarian, whether it be orally, topically administered by you at home, or injections that can be administered by your veterinarian every six to 12 months.

What are the different types of dog heartworm prevention?

The actual components or the medical components of it may differ, depending on the type of prevention that you're giving. But like I said earlier, the heartworm prevention types are oral, topical, or injections by your vet.

When should I start heartworm prevention for my dog?

Some are labeled for around six to eight weeks, so that first puppy vaccine appointment is a great time for a lot of things.

How effective is heartworm prevention?

No prevention is 100%, but the ones prescribed by your veterinarian give you your best chance of preventing something like heartworm disease. And a lot of those are actually backed by multimillion-dollar companies that really believe in research and their products.

Does my dog still need a heartworm test if they're on prevention?

Absolutely. Kind of back to that point of prevention not being 100%, we recommend an annual heartworm test, whether it be during your annual wellness blood work or that snap test. The latter is a very quick test involving getting just a few drops to rule out that they don't have heartworm disease. If they do, the treatment's very different than prevention.

Can prevention be used to clear a heartworm infection?

Technically yes, and it's called the slow kill method. It is not recommended anymore. There's a totally different way of treating that now that your veterinarian has to do in a hospital.

Are there any holistic or over-the-counter dog heartworm preventatives?

I cannot say for sure if there are. I'm sure that there are, but I don't know what they are, and I definitely don't recommend them.

Can I do anything in my dog's environment to reduce the risk of heartworm?

You can help reduce the mosquitoes present by limiting their access to getting inside, such as having a screened-in door. At the end of the day, however, they're still going to be present, so that's why prevention is key.

What should I do if I miss a dose of my dog's heartworm prevention?

If you miss a dose of your heartworm prevention for your dog, get them back on prevention ASAP—speak to your veterinarian. Six months from that time that you missed is really the only time that we're going to be able to detect whether or not your dog was infected during that period. Nonetheless, if you want to be sure, you can get a heartworm test done then.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 202-3641, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 2


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

Can a dog pass on heartworm to another pet or person?

Indirectly, yes. It's not like if a dog with heartworm disease touches another dog that they'll instantly pass that heartworm disease. But the adult heartworms are producing larval or baby heartworms. We call that microfilaria that can be picked up by a mosquito and transmitted to another pet.

How common are heartworms in dogs?

I probably see, on average here, at least between 10 and 20 cases a year. So that might not seem like a lot, but to me, it's significant. Especially with the river being right here because, of course, heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, so where you've got lots of water, you've got lots of mosquitoes.

What is a cycle of heartworm, and how will this information be beneficial to the treatment of my dog?

As I said, we have the adult heartworm, and then we have some larval stages. And so often, when you think of heartworm and talk to your veterinarian, we're talking to you a lot about heartworm prevention. And what we're trying to do with that prevention is kill the larval stage of that heartworm so that it never develops into an adult worm that lives in the heart. Whereas when we diagnose a pet with heartworm disease, it's because we're picking up those adult worm antigens that are living in the heart or maybe the pulmonary vessels—the vessels going to the lungs. And we do a separate protocol for the treatment of those adult worms.

Can our indoor dogs get heartworms?

If a mosquito can get into your house, then your pet can get heartworm.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 3


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

What are the complications of heartworm disease in dogs?

The biggest one is that heartworm disease can kill your pet. That's why a lot of veterinarians or almost all veterinarians are so adamant about heartworm prevention—it is a disease that can kill.

Are there risks associated with the treatment of each stage of heartworm?

There are, but I think, the risks of some injection site soreness or having to do some exercise restriction or things like that with your dog are far better than treating your pet for the disease unless they have many other underlying conditions. But for the most part, I think it's much better to prevent than treat your pet for the disease.

Are there side effects to the medications used to prevent dog heartworms?

Depending on which prevention you choose, it's going to be for the most part the same as any medication. So perhaps your dog has a sensitive stomach and you see a little bit of GI upset. If we're giving ProHeart here in the clinic, it's not uncommon to have a bit of injection site soreness, just like when they get a vaccine.

What are the risks if dog heartworm is left untreated?

If we don't treat that heartworm, as I said, it ultimately could cause the death of your dog. We obviously don't want that for your pet, and that's why we always recommend prevention.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 4


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

How is my dog tested for heartworm disease?

We test with blood, so we draw a couple of drops of blood from your pet. Many of them don't tend to mind it one bit. And we have a test here in-house that we run that lets us detect any of those adult female worms present in your dog.

When and how often should my dog be tested?

We recommend testing at least once a year. And that's per the American Heartworm Society. If you're in a heartworm-heavy area and maybe you're not keeping your pet on prevention, you could do it every six months, but the best protection is keeping your pet on prevention.

If my dog tests positive, do I need additional tests?

We will often do some follow-up tests. We'll look for the larval stage of that heartworm, the microfilariae, on a blood drop under the microscope to confirm that the heartworms are there. Sometimes we do a secondary confirmation with a send-out lab to be extra sure. But most times, that initial test is definitive.

If my dog is on prevention, do they still need the yearly heartworm tests?

They do. And the reason is, we want to make sure that we're not letting any heartworms slip through the cracks. We want to ensure that the product is as effective as possible because nothing has a hundred percent guarantee anymore, and we want to try to keep your pet as safe as possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 5


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

What causes dog heartworm?

It is a parasite that is transmitted through a mosquito. The mosquito will have the larval or the microfilaria stage. As the mosquito bites your pet, it delivers that microfilaria into your pet, and then from there, that microfilaria develops and grows into the adult heartworm.

How does my dog's lifestyle affect their risk for heartworm?

If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors by water sources, such as rivers, ponds, lakes, things like that versus desert areas, that could increase their risk since mosquitoes spread heartworm. But the best protection you can offer your pet is keeping them on prevention.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 6


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

My dog has tested positive for heartworms—what are the next steps?

The following recommendation is going to be getting your dog set up for heartworm treatment. There is a recommended protocol from the American Heartworm Society that we here at Advanced Animal Care and Advanced Animal Care Berea follow pretty strictly. Your dog is going to be on some oral medications and often steroids. We put your pet on steroids to help reduce and prevent any inflammation that may result from the treatment or the death of the worms. We may also put your dog on some antibiotics, recommend doing some pre-treatment, either x-rays or blood work. Then we schedule your pet for their serial injections of the heartworm treatments.

What can I expect from my dog's heartworm veterinary visit?

It will be an in-depth consultation, where we explain everything and every step of the procedure. We'll get your pet on a heartworm preventative to kill the larval stage of that heartworm, the microfilaria, and then walk you through. It's generally about a six-month process from start to finish. That doesn't mean that your dog will be in the clinic every day for six months straight, but it is a lengthy process to get those heartworms treated.

How many heartworm treatments will my dog need?

We generally do a series of three injections. We start them on some oral medications before that first injection, and then we wait about a month between the second and third injections. We give those second and third injections about 24 hours apart. Then from there, it's about keeping your dog on heartworm prevention, finishing out their oral medications, and doing some things like activity restriction as your dog finishes out that treatment.

Can my dog die from heartworm disease?

They definitely can die from heartworm disease. That's generally the end stage of that heartworm disease, and that's why we're so adamant about keeping your pets on heartworm prevention.

Will heartworm treatment cure my dog?

Many times the answer to that is, yes, it will cure your dog. It's very effective, but not everything's a guarantee. We do our absolute best to ensure they're cured, but now and again, we will have that odd case where we weren't as successful as we hoped.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

Dog Heartworm FAQs 7


Dr. Cara Hill
Advanced Animal Care - Berea

How soon after infection will a dog show signs of heartworm?

It takes about six months from what I call a hot active mosquito that's carrying the heartworms. Six months after they bite your dog and inject those larval microfilariae heartworms into your dogs, it takes that six months for them to develop into that adult worm. So generally, it's anywhere from six to 12 months after they've been bitten; you may start noticing signs in your pet. And what we'll see in most cases are things like coughing and exercise intolerance. Maybe they're not as active as they used to be, or you're noticing some lethargy, changes in their appetite, or other things like that.

Is heartworm painful for dogs?

Is it painful in the sense like you stubbed your toe? No, but is it painful in the sense that if left untreated, it could cause the death of your dog.

Are heartworms in my dog visible?

Not to the naked eye. I always tell my clients I wish I had these special x-ray goggles where I could just look into their pet to see if they were there, but they haven't made those yet. So no, they're not visible. They're living in your pet's circulatory system in their bloodstream.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 985-5678, 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.

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