Heartworm is spread to cats and dogs by mosquitoes. The larva travels to the animal’s lungs then heart where they grow to be up 15 to 30 cm in length. They can produce and release thousands of larva into the blood stream where mosquitoes can pick them back up to spread to other animals.

The worms can cause serious damage to internal organs, including swelling of the heart, and can be fatal. Dogs who are infested with many worms may have worms in the large vein between their heart and liver, which will result in death in two to three days if they are not surgically removed.

There are no symptoms of heartworm during early infection, but as it progresses the dog will develop a cough and laboured breathing, and may not be interested in exercise. Abnormal lung and heart sounds will also become apparent and the dog may faint from poor blood flow to their brain.

Dogs showing symptoms of heartworm, even if they’ve been given preventative medication, should be taken to the vet for diagnostic testing immediately as symptoms do not show up until awhile after the worms have gotten into the dog. When caught in time, heartworm can be killed with two waves of medications, the first to kill the adult worms and the second to kill the larva in the bloodstream.

While receiving medication to kill heartworm, it is very important that dogs do not exercise. This can be very difficult for some dogs, such as Naomi.

Naomi is only a year old and has already had a litter of puppies. Manitoba Mutts picked her and two of her puppies up from Scanterbury and brought them to Winnipeg April 7. Naomi was sent to live with a foster family while getting heartworm treatment and waiting for adoption.

She loved to run and play with the 1 1/2 year old girl and the small dog in her first foster family. Because of this she had to be moved to a quieter home even though the family was sad to see her go.

She is very smart and learned “sit” and “up”, which makes it easier for her new foster mom can get her to be still to get her leash on and pick her up to carry her down the apartment building stairs so she doesn’t get too much activity. Even though she only goes for short walks around the building she already knows not to pull too hard on the leash and politely visits with other dogs even when they growl and bark at her.

Imagine all the things she could do and learn though if she had never gotten heartworms and was allowed to run at the park with other pups. Instead of whimpering in her kennel while her foster mom goes for runs she could be joining. Instead of chewing through her leash and on the coffee table out of boredom from having her toys taken away she would be outside in the sun learning to fetch.

What’s so unfortunate about this is that heartworm is so easily prevented by a pill or applying a solution to their skin. There are daily, monthly, and six month options. With mosquito season on the way, talk to your vet today about how to best prevent heartworms in your pup.