There are few things more devastating than the loss of a beloved dog. Seeing our canine companions doing cute things or coming in for a snuggle warms our hearts - so we must do everything we can to protect theirs. One of the ways responsible dog owners can do their part in ensuring their pet lives a long and healthy life is to protect them against heartworms.

What Are Heartworms?

Heartworms are foot-long worms that primarily live in dogs, wolves, coyotes, and foxes. They live in the heart, lungs, and nearby blood vessels of their hosts, and their larval offspring are deposited into the bloodstream and then picked up by mosquitos when they feed off the host. Mosquitos then infect another animal with the larva when they feed again.

Heartworms are not contagious, and the only way it can spread is through mosquitos. The average worm count inside a single dog is 15, but in some cases, as many as 250 worms can thrive within their host. This high worm burden is almost always deadly, so it is imperative to focus on prevention when you bring your new friend home.

How to Prevent Heartworms?

Mature heartworms can live for 5-7 years inside a canine host, dog, or wild cousin. If mosquitos are flying, the one that bites your dog could be carrying the parasite. The only way to effectively safeguard your dog is through preventative medicine.

The medication comes in three forms; a monthly chewable tablet, a monthly topical treatment, or a 6- or 12-month injection. Some people wonder if they should continue giving their dogs medication during the colder months when mosquitos are dormant, but the recommendation is to continue your medication regimen year-round.

These medications are highly effective in destroying juvenile heartworm larva, but once they become an adult after 51 days, the efficacy is significantly-reduced. This is why you must not miss a dose, as every day can be the difference between prevention and treatment. You can also improve your dog's overall health and ability to fight off invasions with diet supplements, such as vitamins or CBD oil for dogs. Visit to learn more about this.

Many heartworm medications can also protect against intestinal worms such as hookworms, roundworms, and other parasitic infections such as ticks, fleas, and mites. Heartworm medication is only available with a prescription from your veterinarian.

Puppies as young as 6-8 weeks old can start monthly heartworm preventative medication. Heartworms are more prevalent in coastal regions of the United States, but there are cases every year in all fifty states.

What does Heartworm Infection Look Like?

Proper prevention goes a long way to ensuring your dog stays free of heartworms, but it is not 100% effective. Sometimes larva can beat the odds and mature despite your best effort, so it is important to know the symptoms of heartworm infection.

 Symptoms and severity largely depend on how many worms are inside your dog, the typical activity level, and the infection length. There are four stages of heartworm disease.

 Stage 1: Mild or no apparent symptoms.

  • Stage 2: Mild to moderate symptoms, including coughing and tiredness.
  • Stage 3: More severe symptoms such as looking sick, tiredness after low activity, breathing difficulty, and signs of heart failure.
  • Stage 4: The worm count has reached life-threatening levels, and worms are blocking blood flow to the heart.

How to Treat Heartworms

 Once a vet has officially diagnosed heartworms, one of the first things you must do is restrict your dog's activity. Rest is required to reduce stress on the heart and lungs. If your dog has advanced symptoms or any other health conditions that may be affected by heartworm treatment, they require stabilization before treatment.

You need to know what stage of heartworm infection your dog has before deciding on the form of treatment.

Be Proactive

Your veterinarian will test for heartworm during your dog’s annual visit. If there is an infection, they will usually catch it in time to successfully treat it before it reaches life-threatening stages. But, you should not count on these check-ups alone to keep your dog safe.

Regular use of preventative medication year-round is the recommended method for keeping your dog free of heartworm. These parasites can cause your dog discomfort or cause their death, so doing your best to ensure they are proactively protected is the responsible thing to do.