What Are The First Signs Of Heartworm Disease?
Heartworms are parasites which live inside the blood vessels of dogs. They cause inflammation and scarring of their host’s arteries, causing them to harden and stiffen. This causes the heart to work harder than it needs to, leading to chest pain and shortness of breath.
The symptoms of heartworm disease may appear at any age, but they usually begin showing up between 6 months and 3 years old. If left untreated, the worms will continue to grow until they reach adulthood.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Heartworms?
A dog with heartworms will have one or two round red spots on its skin. These are called “heartworm lumps”. They look like small pimples, but larger because of their size.
If you see these lumps, then your dog probably does. However, there are other ways to tell if your dog has heartworms:
Your dog will not eat anything new. Even if you give him a treat, he won’t take it. When you try to feed him something else, he’ll just sit and stare at you.
He doesn’t seem hungry; he seems scared!
He coughs a lot. This cough sounds different from normal drooling and hacking. It’s a wet, raspy cough, like something is caught in your dog’s throat.
His tongue hangs out of his mouth as he pants. Even if it’s cool outside, he’ll still be panting. Also, his tongue may be blue or purple instead of its usual dark red color.
He’s losing weight, even though he seems to have an appetite. He just doesn’t have the energy to eat.
He’s not as playful as he used to be. Not even his favorite ball can cheer him up. If you try to make him move, he seems dizzy and disoriented.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Early-Stage Heartworms?
Dogs who have heartworms but no noticeable symptoms are said to have “early-stage” disease. Even in this case, there are several signs that something is wrong. Here are the most common:
He sleeps most of the day and night. If you try to wake him up, he seems groggy and disoriented.
He seems weak. His muscles feel tired and weak even if he’s not doing anything active. Muscle pain may be part of it.
He doesn’t eat his food. If you try to give him something else, he won’t touch it. He might not even look at it.
The way he walks seems odd. The muscles in his hind legs seem weak and tired. His gait (the way he walks) is uncoordinated and wobbly, like he’s about to fall over.
He drinks a lot of water and urinates often, but little else. He may vomit a green slime.
His chest feels tight and painful. He breathes with a rattly, moist sound. He tires easily and may collapse if he runs too much.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Late-Stage Heartworms?
Dogs with late-stage heartworms are in danger of dying suddenly from heart failure. The worms infest the heart and vital arteries, blocking the flow of blood.
The most common symptoms are:
Difficulty breathing. This gets worse as he gets tired. It’s common for him to pant and gasp for air as he tries to catch his breath.
The sound of his breathing may change suddenly to a wet rattle or bubble from fluid in his lungs.
His back or side feels warm to the touch. His heart is working so hard that he feels hot to the touch.
His nose and gums are blue or purple instead of their normal red color. His lips and eyelids may be a dusky color, too. This is from not getting enough oxygen.
His stomach bloats up like a balloon. This happens as fluid backs up in his body, like when your arm gets trapped under something and goes to sleep.
He collapses suddenly. This is an emergency. Take him to the vet right away.
How Do You Treat Heartworms in Dogs?
If your dog has been diagnosed with heartworms, he will need to take medicines for at least six months. The type of treatment he’ll need depends on how bad his disease is and whether or not he’s had any complications because of it.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Canine and feline dirofilariasis: life cycle, pathophysiology, and diagnosis (H Hoch, K Strickland – Compendium, 2008 – vetfolio-vetstreet.s3.amazonaws.com)
- Diagnostic, treatment, and prevention protocols for canine heartworm infection in animal sheltering agencies (KN Colby, JK Levy, KF Dunn, RI Michaud – Veterinary parasitology, 2011 – Elsevier)
- Heartworm in dogs in Canada in 1985 (JOD Slocombe, I McMillan – Can Vet J, 1986 – researchgate.net)