How Do Dogs Get Heartworm? All You Need To Know

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Heartworm is one of the most devastating and potentially fatal parasitic infections that can affect dogs. It is a disease caused by a parasitic worm living in the blood vessels of the heart and lungs of affected dogs. This worm, Dirofilaria immitis, is spread by mosquitos that have previously been exposed to infected animals. While heartworm is most commonly found in dogs, it can also be seen in cats, foxes, and other animals. Symptoms of heartworm can range from mild coughing and fatigue to severe anemia, fluid accumulation in the chest cavity, and sudden death.

Fortunately, with early detection and proper treatment, heartworm can be successfully managed in dogs. In this article, we will discuss how dogs get heartworm, the signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention methods. We will also provide some additional resources for more information.

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Heartworm is spread through infected mosquito bites. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, it can transmit larvae into the bloodstream, which can then mature into adult worms. This can cause serious health issues for your pup, including damage to major organs and even death. Pets are most at risk of heartworm infection in the warmer months when mosquitos are more active.

What Are Heartworms in Dogs?

Heartworms in dogs are parasitic worms that are passed between dogs through the bite of a mosquito. The worms get into the heart and can obstruct major vessels, leading to breathing difficulty, organ failure, and death if left untreated. Heartworm disease can be prevented with medication, but treatment is long and potentially dangerous.

How Common Is Heartworm In Dogs?

Heartworm is relatively common in dogs. It is estimated that between 2 and 3 million dogs are infected with heartworm each year in the United States alone. Heartworm is also becoming increasingly common in other parts of the world. The Heartworm Society recommends that all dogs over the age of six months be put on preventive medications to guard against heartworm.

Can Dogs Get Heartworm from Another Dog?

Yes, dogs can get heartworm from another dog. This is because the heartworm is transmitted from dog to dog by mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, it transmits the larvae of the heartworm which then develops in the dog’s body over time. When other mosquitoes bit that infected dog, they can take the infected larvae to other dogs and transmit the heartworm.

Can Humans Get Heartworm?

Yes, although, It is uncommon for humans to contract heartworm as our immune system is more efficient at detecting and destroying this type of parasitic worm than canines.

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If you suspect that your dog may have heartworms, it is important to take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet will order special tests such as a complete blood count, chest radiograph, and a heartworm antibody test. This test looks for antibodies produced by the body that are only created when an animal has been exposed to the infection. Having your pet correctly tested for heartworms can save its life.

Signs of Heartworms in Dogs

  • Coughing: A common symptom of heartworms in dogs is a dry cough, which may sound like a honking sound. This typically worsens after physical activity.
  • Exercise Intolerance: A dog with heartworms will tire more easily than usual, and he or she may not be able to exercise as much as before. This is especially true for more serious cases.
  • Weight Loss: Heartworm-infected dogs may suffer from a loss of appetite, leading to weight loss and poor body condition.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Dogs with heartworm can experience difficulty breathing due to restricted blood flow and inflammation caused by the worms. They may also be prone to bouts of lethargy or tiredness.
  • Abnormal Heartbeat: A vet can detect an abnormal, rapid heartbeat in a dog with heartworms. This is known as a heart murmur.
  • Abdominal Swelling: A certain amount of abdominal swelling or bloating may be noticed in dogs with heartworms. This is caused by fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

What Are The First Signs of Heartworms in Dogs?

The most common initial signs of heartworm infection in dogs are a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after mild exercise, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

How Do Vets Test for Heartworm?

A vet will typically perform a heartworm test on a dog using a blood sample. The sample is analyzed for the presence of antigens, which are specific proteins that are created by adult female heartworms living in the dog’s heart and adjacent blood vessels. The presence of these antigens indicates infection. In addition to the traditional blood test, some vets may also use a chest X-ray or an ultrasound imaging test to detect the presence of mature worms.

What Months Do Dogs Need Heartworm Pills?

Most vets recommend giving your dog heartworm medication every month from March to October when mosquitoes, the main vector for transmitting heartworms, are most active. Some vets may even recommend monthly treatment year-round.

Why Do Dogs Need Heartworm Tests Before Medication?

Heartworm tests are recommended before proceeding with any kind of heartworm-preventative medication to ensure that the dog is free from the parasite. Prior to beginning treatment, veterinarians need to be sure that the dog does not have an active infection before administering preventative medication, as it could have adverse effects. The tests are also important for ensuring that the correct type of preventive medication is prescribed for the pet’s specific situation.

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Treating heartworm in dogs involves an aggressive protocol of specific drugs prescribed by a veterinarian to kill the existing adult heartworm population in the dog’s heart and prevent the spread of the larvae. Treatment often includes two injections of a drug called Immiticide, an arsenic-containing compound, that is induced into the dog’s bloodstream through its skin. Treatment also typically includes fasting two days before and after the injections, as well as treatment with one or more oral drugs, such as doxycycline, a tetracycline antibiotic, and ivermectin, an anti-parasitic. Owners must also ensure their dog is kept quiet and devoid of anything to pull on while the treatment is being administered. Regular checkups and continued treatments may be necessary for up to two years afterward in order to keep the dog worm-free.

How Is Heartworm Similar in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

Heartworm is a parasitic worm that can live in the hearts and lungs of both humans and pets. In all species, the worms are transmitted by mosquito bites, with infected mosquitoes carrying microfilaria, a pre-larval form of the worm, in their saliva. When a mosquito bites an animal, the microfilaria is deposited in the bite and can enter the body as the animal bites or scratches the wound.

How is Heartworm Different in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

In dogs, the worm migrates to the heart and lungs, where it can cause serious damage. In humans, the worm migrates to the blood vessels and lymph nodes, and rarely to organs, but does not cause the same severe damage.

In other pets, such as cats and ferrets, the worm could migrate to the heart and lungs. The worms can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems, but the severity and prevalence of these problems are much less than in dogs. In addition, heartworm can be more difficult to detect in cats and ferrets because they are less likely to show outward signs of infection.

How To Prevent Heartworm in Dogs

  • Use preventative medication: one of the best ways to protect your dog against heartworms is by using preventive medication each month. Ask your vet about the best heartworm preventative for your pet’s particular needs.
  • Test for heartworms regularly: If your dog is exposed to heartworms, healthy dogs should be tested every six months. Dogs with pre-existing heartworm conditions should be tested more often.
  • Keep your dog from coming into contact with other animals who have heartworms: one of the most common ways for your dog to become infected with heartworms is through contact with other animals who may have it. So keep your pet away from areas where stray animals congregate, and make sure they are on a leash when outdoors.
  • Keep your dog from swimming or wading in standing water: heartworm larvae can be found in standing water, so it’s best to avoid these places if possible.
  • Talk to your vet about an appropriate diet and exercise routine: A healthy diet and exercise routine can help to keep your dog’s immune system strong, which can help to fight off heartworm infection.
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Q. What age do dogs start heartworm?

A. Heartworm is spread when an infected mosquito bites a dog, so it is possible for a dog to become infected at any age. Heartworm disease is most common in adult dogs; however, puppies as young as 5-7 weeks of age can be infected.

Q. Can dogs get heartworms from fleas?

A. No, dogs cannot get heartworms from fleas. Heartworms are caused by infected mosquitoes that carry and transmit the heartworm larvae to dogs through a bite.

Q. How long can dogs have heartworms before showing symptoms?

A. Dogs usually do not begin to show symptoms until the heartworm infection has been present for several months. Depending on the severity of the infection, dogs can go for more than a year without showing any outward symptoms.

Q. Can dogs get heartworm from eating poop?

A. No, heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and they cannot be contracted from eating feces.


It is important to realize that heartworm can be a serious condition in dogs if not caught in time. Early detection and treatment can help save your pet’s life. However, the best way to avoid heartworm in your pet is to make sure you provide them with the annual preventative medication that you get from your veterinarian. This medication helps to eliminate mosquitoes in your pet’s environment, helping to reduce the risk of transmission. Additionally, be sure to keep up with your pet’s regular vet visits, as this can help detect heartworm in its early stages.

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