How Does a Dog Get Heartworm?

How Does Dog Get Heartworm

Now that summer is finally here, you and your dog are probably both eager to spend more time outside. However, it’s also important to be aware that the warmer weather also means that your dog has a greater likelihood of developing heartworm. Dogs can only develop heartworm in one way and that is through a bite from an infected mosquito.

Mosquitos acquire heartworm when they bite a dog that already has the parasite. The circumstances must be just right for this to happen, which means the heartworm present must be adults that have already started reproducing.

When a mosquito sucks the blood of an infected dog, it takes the babies of the heartworm called microfilariae into its own body. These develop into larvae over the next 10 days to two weeks and become infected. The mosquito then transfers the heartworm larvae to a new host when it bites another dog. This dog doesn’t develop symptoms of heartworm disease until the heartworm become adults several months later.

Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Heartworm can have an incredibly long life span and live up to seven years once inside of your dog’s body. A single worm can grow to a length of 12 inches and reproduce multiple times. When a female heartworm reproduces, it can release several thousand tiny worms into your dog’s bloodstream. Although the symptoms may not be obvious for several months, you'll eventually notice these issues:

  • Easily fatigued
  • Refusal to eat
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent cough

The following symptoms are common with advanced cases of heartworm:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood in the urine
  • Distended stomach

If you suspect that your dog has heartworm, please contact Grantsburg Animal Hospital or Wild River Veterinary Clinic right away for an examination. It typically only takes one blood test to determine if your dog is heartworm positive. The first thing we will recommend if your dog tests positive is to reduce exercise or prevent him from doing it altogether. He will also need to take medication to eliminate the heartworm from his body after he has reached a point of stabilization. We test your dog again approximately six months after the last dose of medication to ensure that he no longer has heartworm remaining in his body.

Preventing Heartworm is Easier Than Treating It

Dogs are fortunate in that they are much more responsive to heartworm treatment than cats. Even so, the process is long, uncomfortable, and expensive. It’s much better to prevent your dog from getting heartworm in the first place. Prevention comes in many forms, including chewable medication and a topical solution. You can find these products and more in our online store. Please let us know if you would like a specific product recommendation or if you have additional questions about summer heartworm control.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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