Heartworms are internal parasites that are very dangerous for dogs. Though heartworm is not very common in Québec, it is important to be able to recognize its symptoms and know how to respond given the serious health problems it can cause.
How do dogs get heartworm?
Heartworm is spread through mosquito bites. Mosquitos do not carry the parasite, but are rather vectors by which the disease travels (from an infected dog to a non-infected dog).
What makes heartworm so dangerous?
As the name implies, heartworm attacks the heart (and pulmonary arteries) of dogs. The larvae enter the bloodstream and then migrate to the heart. It can take several months for the larvae to grow to their adult size (up to 30 cm long).
One of the reasons that heartworm is so dangerous is that symptoms can take many months before becoming detectable. By that time, the disease is already well advanced.
What are the symptoms of heartworm?
Shortness of breath, coughing, lethargy and breathing difficulties are the most common symptoms of heartworm.
How is heartworm diagnosed?
The parasite can be detected in an animal’s bloodstream. A simple blood test is all that is needed to determine whether a dog has heartworm. We recommend that dogs get screened for heartworm on a regular basis.