Symptoms Of Late Stage Heartworms In Dogs

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Heartworms are a serious and potentially life-threatening condition in dogs. When left untreated, they can cause severe damage to the lungs and heart. In the late stage of heartworm disease, your dog may experience a variety of symptoms including difficulty breathing, coughing, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss. It is important to get your dog tested for heartworms if you suspect he or she may be infected. Early detection and treatment can help prevent long-term damage to the heart and lungs.

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The following are the symptoms of late-stage heartworm disease in dogs:

  1. Persistent cough, often accompanied by exercise intolerance
  2. Difficulty breathing (known as dyspnea)
  3. Changes in appetite
  4. Weight loss
  5. Excessive fatigue and decreased energy
  6. A bulging of the chest wall (known as a pericardial effusion)
  7. Swelling of the abdomen (known as ascites)
  8. Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  9. Fainting or collapsing
  10. Severe fluid buildup in the lungs (known as pulmonary edema)
  11. Severe anemia due to severe infection
  12. Heart failure

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease, also known as Dirofilariasis, is a parasitic infection caused by various species of roundworms, specifically, Dirofilaria immitis. The roundworms infect the arteries of the lungs and the right side of the heart causing obstructions and various other serious health complications. Heartworm disease can be fatal and is commonly spread among dogs, cats, ferrets, and other animals can be affected as well. This disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and is most commonly prevented and treated through the use of medications.

What Is The Lifecycle Of The Heartworm Parasite?

The heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) parasite is passed from host to host in a mosquito’s saliva. Once the mosquito feeds on an infected animal, the heartworm larvae (microfilariae) are deposited onto the surface of the new host, where they can penetrate the skin and migrate to the circulatory system. 

Once inside the body, the larvae develop into L1, L2, L3, and L4 stage worms (immature adults). These worms live in the bloodstream and eventually migrate to the pulmonary arteries, where they mature into adult heartworms. 

At this point, the adult heartworms are ready to reproduce. The female worm releases several thousand larvae (microfilariae) into the blood, which are then ready to be transmitted to a new host when aO mosquito bites. 

In the end, the full heartworm lifecycle lasts about 6 to 7 months, depending on the environmental conditions and the host species.

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Common symptoms of canine heartworm disease include an unhealthy-looking coat, coughing, difficulty breathing, weight loss, tiredness, and general sluggishness. In advanced cases, a dog may collapse, have an enlarged heart, and show signs of swelling in the legs, stomach, or chest. Heartworm disease can also be fatal, especially with routine prevention.

When Should I Have My Dog Tested for Heartworms?

It is recommended that dogs be tested for heartworms at least once a year. However, some health experts suggest that puppies may need to be tested a little more frequently during their first year of life to detect any possible infections that may have been transmitted from the mother before birth. A second test a few weeks after the initial one should provide more accurate results.

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How To Check If Your Dog Has Heartworms

To check if your dog has heartworms, you should take your dog to a veterinarian for a full physical exam and blood tests. These tests will determine if your dog is infected with adult heartworms or if there is evidence of past or current infection with heartworm larvae. Your vet may also take an x-ray of your dog’s chest to look for any damage caused by the worms.

How Do Vets Test for Heartworm?

In order to diagnose a case of heartworm disease in an animal, veterinarians must test for the presence of the actual worms that cause the disease, as well as the presence of specific markers in the animal’s blood. Common tests include a complete blood count, biochemical profile, chest X-rays, and echocardiogram. Veterinarians will also look for microfilariae, which are the baby worms of heartworms, in the animal’s blood via a sample taken from the animal’s skin. High levels of antigen markers in the blood are also indicative of an animal’s having heartworms. While all of these tests are important for accurately diagnosing and treating an animal for heartworm, the definitive test remains a combination of antigen testing and microfilariae testing.

Heartworm Symptoms In Dogs Poop

Common signs of heartworm infection in dogs include a dry cough, fatigue, decreased appetite, weight loss, and pale gums. In more advanced cases, the heartworms can become large enough to obstruct blood flow to the heart and lungs, which can result in difficulty breathing, fainting, and even death. In some rare cases, infected dogs will produce bloody or tarry-looking stools due to blockages in the intestines caused by large groups of heartworms.

Heartworm Cough In Dogs

Yes, heartworm in dogs can cause coughing. Coughing is one of the more common signs of heartworm in dogs. The cough is a result of the swelling and pressure on the pulmonary margins caused by the worm infestation. Other signs of an infection include lethargy, weight loss, decreased appetite, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood. It is important to have your dog tested for heartworm infection to prevent further complications. Treatment is available for dogs that are infected, so early intervention is essential.

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Stage 4 heartworms in dogs are the most advanced and severe stage of the infection. Dogs in this stage show signs of severe heart and lung damage. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing, coughing, lethargy, and weight loss. At this stage, treatment options are limited and the prognosis is poor. If left untreated, dogs with stage 4 heartworms will eventually die. Treatment options at this stage include long-term management of the disease with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and special diets. In some cases, surgical removal of the worms may be necessary to provide relief.

What Are The First Signs Of Heartworms In Dogs?

The early stages of heartworms in dogs can be difficult to detect, as the signs may be very mild or even go unnoticed. Some of the most common initial signs include a mild persistent cough, decreased appetite, weight loss, tiredness or lack of energy, and intermittent vomiting/diarrhea. However, if left untreated, heartworms can cause much more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, very swollen abdomen (especially after exercise), fat accumulation in the abdomen, pale gums, labored breathing, and weight loss.

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What Are The Final Stages Of Heartworms In Dogs?

The final stage of heartworms in dogs is the death of the adult. It usually occurs shortly after the worm eggs are released from the female into the dog’s bloodstream. During this time, the dog may show symptoms of developing pneumonia. These can include a cough, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. Severe cases can result in sudden death. Treatment for heartworms can prevent the progression of the disease and help improve a dog’s life expectancy.

What Are The Symptoms Of End Stage Heartworm?

End-stage heartworm, also known as advanced heartworm disease, is a severe and life-threatening condition caused by the parasitic larvae of the heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis. Symptoms of end-stage heartworm include persistent coughing, difficulty breathing (dyspnea), loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, abdominal swelling, digital pulses, and heart murmurs. Advanced stages can lead to heart failure and can even be fatal.

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Heartworm disease is a serious condition in dogs, so it’s best to visit a veterinarian for treatment. However, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the severity of the infection and make your pet more comfortable until you can get to your vet.

  1. Keep your pet’s environment clean and free of potential sources of heartworm infections, such as mosquitoes.
  2. Give your pet a regular heartworm preventive to reduce the chances of infection.
  3. Increase your pet’s activity level, but not to the point of overexertion. More movement helps the immune system fight off infection.
  4. Keep your pet on a healthy diet that is high in antioxidants to give their immune system a boost.
  5. Give your pet garlic-based supplements, either fresh garlic or garlic oil which are believed to help combat heartworm infections.
  6. Talk to your vet about options such as herbal supplements or acupuncture, which are often used to aid in the recovery process.

What To Feed A Dog With Heartworms

If a dog is infected with heartworms, it is important to feed them a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber to alleviate pressure on their heart and lungs. Generally, a veterinarian’s recommendation is the best option. Commonly, use a high-fiber diet like cooked brown rice, oatmeal, canned pumpkin, peeled sweet potatoes, human-market veggies like asparagus, green beans, and spinach, cooked eggs, boneless skinless chicken, and lean beef for protein sources.

Heartworm Disease Treatment for Dogs

The standard treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is to kill the adult female worms and their larvae. This is most often done using a two-step process involving the use of an adulticidal (such as Immiticide) and a macrocyclic lactone, which is an anthelmintic (Anti-Worm medication) which kills the larvae. After the course of treatment, the dog will need to remain on heartworm-preventative medication in order to prevent future infection. Other treatments may include antibiotics and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Occasionally, surgery may be required to remove large worms from the lungs. 6 months of follow-up appointments with your veterinarian should occur after the initial treatment.

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Dog Life Expectancy After Heartworm Treatment

The life expectancy of a dog after heartworm treatment varies based on the severity of the case and the dog’s overall health. Generally, most dogs can expect to live a full, normal life after treatment. They may initially experience some reduced energy levels and may require rest for up to a few weeks following treatment. As their condition improves, exercise and activity should be gradually resumed. Some dogs may never return to their previous level of activity, while others may be able to return to their normal life.

Heartworm Prevention For Dogs

  • Annual heartworm testing – It is important to have your pet tested for heartworm infection each year to ensure they are not infected and to help catch any early signs of infection before it becomes an issue.
  • Year-Round Heartworm Prevention – Using a monthly heartworm preventative will help protect your pet from heartworms and other parasites. Be sure to speak to your vet about the best prevention for your pet.
  • Home Care – Reducing your pet’s exposure to mosquitoes, including draining standing water and keeping your pet indoors during peak mosquito hours (dusk and dawn) can help reduce their risk of heartworm infection.
  • Diet – A balanced diet with adequate high-quality proteins helps support the development and maintenance of strong immunity. This can help protect your pet from diseases like heartworm, as well as other parasites.


Q. How do you know if heartworms are getting worse?

A. The presence of heartworms is typically confirmed through a combination of lab tests including blood tests, X-rays, and an ultrasound. The longer the heartworm infection goes untreated, the more severe the clinical signs; also, the presence of a large number of heartworms can cause more serious symptoms. If the infection is worsening, a pet will typically become increasingly lethargic, have difficulty breathing, and show signs of coughing or vomiting.

Q. How long can a dog have heartworms before it dies?

A. The duration of the condition can vary, and some dogs can live with heartworm disease for years while others die shortly after being diagnosed. It really depends on the severity of the case, so it is important to complete regular heartworm tests to monitor the situation and keep the disease from becoming worse.

Q. How long can a dog have heartworms before showing symptoms?

A. In most cases, it can take several months to several years for a dog to show symptoms of heartworm. The severity and timing of symptoms usually vary and depend on the number of adult worms and the presence of organ damage caused by the heartworms.


In conclusion, symptoms of late-stage heartworms in dogs can be divided into two categories: clinical symptoms which can be observed with the naked eye, and physical symptoms that require diagnostic tests. Clinical symptoms include coughing, labored breathing, fatigue, weight loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. Physical symptoms include an enlarged heart, changes in pulmonary arteries and veins, and an increase in lung pressure. If you suspect that your dog has heartworm disease, have him tested and get him treated right away. Left untreated, this disease can potentially be fatal.

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