Protect Your Best Friend: 5 Tips to Prevent Heartworms in Dogs

Prevent Heartworms in Dogs  by Dr. David Price, Entomologist Updated04-08-2024

We love our dogs. They’re our fur babies, fitness partners, and best friends. Each pup has a unique personality, as do the humans who welcome them into their family.

Working dogs can be our partners in our jobs. For some of us, dogs help to combat depression.

As dog owners, we all take different approaches to the food we give them, the toys we choose, our exercise routines, health care choices, and sleeping arrangements.

But one subject doesn’t allow for differing opinions:

Heartworms pose a deadly threat to our beloved friends. And heartworm prevention for dogs is far easier, less expensive, and more successful than treatment.

Either you know all about heartworms and provide your dog with regular heartworm prevention, or you don’t yet know how serious the issue is. So, let’s explore the threat of heartworms and our top five tips to protect your dog.

A black Shih Tzu puppy

What Are Heartworms?

“Heartworms” or “dog heartworms” are common names for the parasitic worm Dirofilaria immitis. Heartworms live in a host’s bloodstream and can cause acute lung disease, catastrophic organ damage, or cardiac failure if left untreated.

While cats, ferrets, coyotes, foxes, and wolves can all contract heartworms, dogs are the natural parasite hosts. Heartworms develop to maturity and reproduce rapidly in a dog’s bloodstream.

Dogs die from heartworm disease. While a medical treatment exists for dogs (it doesn’t yet for cats or ferrets), it is complicated and costly (thousands of dollars), and your pet’s health is forever compromised. Prevention is far simpler and safer.

How Are Heartworms Transmitted from One Animal to Another?

A black Shih Tzu puppy licking his lips

Heartworms cannot live outside a host. They live, breed, and grow primarily in the heart and pulmonary arteries of the animals they infect.

When a female heartworm produces baby worms called microfilariae, she releases them into the host animal’s bloodstream.

When a mosquito bites an infected dog, the mosquito ingests some of the microfilariae with the blood.

Once inside the mosquito, the microfilariae mature to the next stage as an infective larva. Heartworms must spend time in a mosquito’s digestive tract to become infective.

Heartworm disease cannot be passed to another animal in any other way, such as through licking, biting, or feces.

When the mosquito bites another dog or susceptible animal, the infective larva enters the new host’s bloodstream through the mosquito bite.

Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs

If your beloved dog is bitten by a mosquito and infected with heartworms, initially, you’ll likely see no signs.

Infective larvae must mature in your dog’s bloodstream for six to seven months. During that time, the parasites are undetectable by veterinary tests.

Because the parasites live in the bloodstream, you cannot see heartworms in your dog’s stool. And the early heartworm symptoms in dogs are frighteningly easy to overlook. An occasional cough or a little lethargy after activity may not seem worrisome.

But as the heartworms mature, mate, and reproduce, the burden on the dog grows, leading to a persistent cough and pronounced fatigue after moderate exercise.

Soon, breathing becomes labored, the belly swells with fluid, and signs of heart failure appear. In the final stages, death occurs unless surgical intervention removes the heartworm blockage.

  • persistent cough
  • pronounced fatique
  • labored breathing
  • swollen belly

5 Tips for Heartworm Prevention in Dogs

As nasty as heartworm disease is for our beloved friends, there is no vaccine, and the treatment itself is toxic to your pet. Heartworm prevention for dogs is by far the best approach.

Heartworm Prevention Medicine

A Shih Tzu puppy is sitting on a tiny chair

A variety of heartworm prevention medications are available by prescription from your vet. There are chewable pills, topical applications, and injections available. Some are repeated monthly, and some last for six or 12 months.

The medication is formulated based on your dog’s weight, so the dosage may change as your dog grows.

According to the American Heartworm Society recommendations, your furry friend needs continual protection, starting at eight weeks of age.

Some heartworm prevention medication also effectively protects against fleas, ticks, tapeworms, and other parasites. Again, your vet can advise you on the best protection for your pup.

Routine Checkups

Only your veterinarian can prescribe heartworm prevention medications, so you must maintain regular checkups.

Your vet will also test for heartworms as part of your dog’s annual checkup because catching the disease early makes the treatment more effective. And regular health care keeps your pup healthy and happy.

Keep Your Yard and Home Mosquito-Free

Mosquitoes are essential to the spread of heartworms and heartworm disease. Without mosquitoes, your dog would never be at risk from these parasites! So, work to keep your yard mosquito-free by the following means:

  • Keep your grass mown short.
  • Dethatch the lawn.
  • Avoid overwatering.
  • Repair any leaking irrigation and faucets.
  • Eliminate sources of standing water.
  • Treat water features with a mosquito larvicide.
  • Chlorinate swimming pools.
  • Hire a professional pest control service.

The above yard care tips work to make your property less appealing to mosquitoes by denying them the habitat they seek. And an added benefit of professional mosquito control is that it can protect your dog and the rest of your family from other vector-borne diseases, like West Nile and Zika viruses.

Commit to Routine

Continual heartworm protection for dogs is essential to your furry friend’s health. Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states in America.

Veterinarians, the American Heartworm Society, and the federal government urge dog owners to provide heartworm protection year-round.

So, commit to the annual vet exams to check for heartworms and to get the next set of preventative medication so that your best friend never faces a grueling struggle with heartworm disease.

Strengthen Your Dog’s Immune System

Undoubtedly, the healthiest dog on the block can get heartworm disease if an infected mosquito bites it. But providing your dog with a wholesome diet, regular health care, and plenty of exercise will boost their immune system.

A healthy immune system won’t prevent heartworm disease, but it will enable your dog better to fight off the effects of the heartworm infection until you can provide treatment.

Be the Friend Your Dog Deserves & Start Heartworm

Be the Friend Your Dog Deserves & Start Heartworm.

Life gets hectic, and sometimes our best intentions slide. It happens. But this one just can’t wait. Your best friend needs your support and protection just as much as you need their love and companionship.

If you haven’t already, initiate mosquito control and start heartworm protection for dogs today. Ensure all the sloppy kisses, belly rubs, and snuggles for all the tomorrows to come.

Prevent Heartworms in Dogs:  Author Bio

Dr. David Price is an Associate Certified Entomologist of over 12 years and working in the Pest Management industry for over 25 years. The Director of Technical Services for Mosquito Joe oversees all training development and technical support to over 170 Franchises in 38 states and Washington.

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About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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