Lakeland Dog Owners: 6 Signs of Heartworm in Dogs

Heartworms are common in dogs. Heartworms are parasites that can live within dogs and, over time, cause health issues and death if it is not treated. These parasites are especially common in shelter dogs and puppies.

heartworms in dogs in Lakeland, FL

Not only are heartworms potentially lethal in dogs, but they are also highly contagious and spread quickly. It is important to look for these signs of heartworms in your dog and get treatment immediately.

Once any of these signs are noted, pet owners should call their local veterinarian to schedule an appointment for further testing and treatment before their dog’s condition gets worse.

1. Persistent Loud Cough

The first and most common sign of heartworm in dogs is a loud cough. Coughing in dogs is unusual and a sign of worry. While a dog coughing once is not anything to be worried about, owners should seek medical help if the cough worsens and becomes persistent. The cough associated with heartworm is obvious and immensely different as it is a dry cough.

Heartworm causes a dry, persistent loud cough in dogs because of the parasite’s ability to travel throughout the body. As the parasites travel, they find themselves in dogs’ lungs, which creates a blockage and makes it difficult for your dog to breathe.

2. Lethargy

The second sign of heartworm in dogs is lethargy. Lethargy is a symptom where your dog loses interest in playing, taking walks, and even eating. This sign can be confused with many other symptoms, which is why it is important to get your dog’s medical attention as soon as possible.

This strange symptom can worsen over time and lead to canine depression, amongst other difficult health conditions. Since dogs lose interest in activities, they lay dormant, only moving minimally. When this occurs, they are at a higher risk of developing obesity as they no longer live an active lifestyle.

3. Weight Loss or Gain

Another popular shared symptom in dogs with heartworm is either rapid weight gain or loss. Each dog reacts differently to heartworms. Dogs with heartworm rapidly gain weight because they lose interest (lethargy) inactive activities. This, combined with the potential for depression, may push them to overheat quickly.

Other dogs lose weight instead of gaining weight. This is because heartworms cause symptoms such as a loss of appetite. Dogs may begin refusing to eat or looking uninterested in the food if they have heartworms.

This rapid weight loss is a big problem in dogs as it can lead to dehydration and depletion of vitamins and minerals that are essential to run their bodies.

4. Increased Difficulty Breathing

While there is no one correct order for the signs of heartworm, dogs with these parasites can see an increase in the difficulty of breathing. This is kind of connected to the persistent loud cough discussed earlier.

Because parasites can make their way to your dogs’ lungs, they can impact the way they breathe. If this sign is noticed, pet owners should bring their dog to an emergency vet as soon as possible as their dog may be suffering from prolonged asthma attacks.

Not only does it become more difficult to breathe because of the parasites finding their way to the lungs, but also because there is a potential for fluid to build up in the lungs and blood vessels, limiting air capacity. This is not only uncomfortable but can be painful and deadly as dogs need to breathe to live.

5. Bloated Belly

This is a sign that is way more common in puppies than in older adults. Dogs that have heartworms may have bloated stomachs regardless of their diet. Typically, this sign is what pushes pet owners to test their furry friends for heartworms and other parasites. Puppies with large and filled bellies may appear to be cute, but can have a serious health problem that may lead to death if untreated.

The stomach bloats as fluid continues to fill the lungs, blood vessels, and eventually the abdomen. This is concerning as it can worsen and lead to death in dogs.

6. Unexplainable Fainting Spells

If your dog suddenly faints without a reason or explanation, it is time to rush them to your local vet. This sign typically emerges in the later stage of heartworms, where parasites double in numbers wreaking havoc on the dog’s body.

The fluid that was building up in the lungs, at this point, can begin to seep into the blood vessels and veins. This is immensely dangerous as the fluid can easily block the blood vessels, leading to fainting and collapsing. This is a bad sign that your dog may not have much time left without medical treatment.

How to Really Know If Your Dog Has Heartworms

The only way to fully know if your dog has heartworms is to take them to a veterinarian to run tests as soon as any of the signs mentioned above are noticed.

It is also important to note that puppies are especially susceptible to heartworms and quickly spread to other dogs.

If you get a puppy during your first visit, ask your veterinarian to check and see any parasites. This could save your pup’s life! The test that veterinarians run on dogs to check for heartworm includes collecting a small blood sample. This is a quick and painless procedure. The blood test looks for heartworm proteins, and when found, indicates positive.

Diagnosing heartworm, however, is not easy! It takes approximately six months to develop symptoms from these parasites as they do not quickly reproduce. However, veterinarians can prescribe medications that kill heartworm parasites to all dogs as long as they have tested positive. Puppies as young as six months old automatically need the medication for precautionary reasons.

Make Sure Your Dog Is Up-to-Date on Their Heartworm Prevention

Our dogs rely on us for their health and wellbeing. They cannot communicate with words, like us, and completely rely on using their bodies to send messages that something is wrong. Heartworm in dogs is uncomfortable and can become deadly if the spread of the parasite increases rapidly.

We’re here for you in case of a pet emergency, so if you notice any of these signs, don’t hesitate to call us or bring your dog in for further evaluation.

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At Parkway Veterinary Emergency Clinic, our team consists of experienced veterinarians and veterinary professionals dedicated to providing exceptional after-hours emergency vet care to the pet community of Lakeland.