Heartworm In Dogs: The Facts and What To Do About It
What is heartworm?
Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a worm that lives in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of pets that have been infected by mosquitos. These worms get their name from where the adults live in the body: the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal. Dogs are most susceptible to infection but cats and ferrets can also become infected.
Can heartworm be treated?
Yes! But treatment costs 10-15x more than preventatives and treatment can take months. It is not always 100% successful. Treatment usually involves Melarsomine dihydrochloride which is an FDA-approved drug used to kill adult heartworms in dogs. The medication is injected deep into the back muscles. This treatment is often only used for Class 1, 2, and 3 cases of heartworm. Class 4 of heartworm is risky and often fatal as the blood is being blocked by a mass of worms. Surgery is the only option for class 4 cases. There is no FDA-approved drug to treat heartworm in cats and ferrets.
Is my pet at risk?
Heartworm is found in all 50 states. Even if your pet is indoors, a stray infected mosquito that finds its way into your house can infect your pet.
Is heartworm in dogs deadly?
Potentially. Heartworm can cause: severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage of other organs especially if left untreated. There are 4 classes of heartworm with class 1, 2, and 3 being treatable with medication. Class 4 requires surgery that may not be successful.
Can I do anything to prevent heartworm in dogs?
Yes! Pets should be on year-round preventatives and get regular testing for early detection. Preventative care costs less than treatment and only takes a few minutes. If you have cats and ferrets, keep them indoors to help reduce their risk of being infected. For dogs, make sure to mosquito-proof your yard as much as possible. This includes removing any standing water, regular yard maintenance, and using fans when outside.
Want to learn more about heartworm in dogs and facts? See the FDA’s page on heartworm that goes into more depth.