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Heartworm symptoms in dogs: How to recognise this serious disease

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Heartworm poses a serious – and possibly life-threatening – risk to your dog. Prevention is better than cure, so treat your dog all year round.
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A large dog resting his head on a picnic table and being petted lovingly by his owner

All Australian dogs run the risk of contracting heartworm. Transmitted by infected mosquitoes, heartworm causes lasting damage to a dog’s lungs, heart and blood vessels, and they can cause serious disease and can affect the quality of a dog’s life. Heartworm disease is difficult and costly to treat. Prevention is the best for your dog, however early detection is vital for successful treatment – here’s how to spot the signs.

Heartworm symptoms in dogs 

Heartworm disease is confirmed by a blood test carried out by your vet. There are several physical signs that can indicate the presence of heartworm:

Cough

Your dog may cough periodically, especially after increased activity. Though this could indicate a less serious condition like kennel cough, only a visit to your vet can help you rule out heartworm.

Lethargy or inactivity

Since it attacks the heart and lungs, heartworm can make typical activities, such as walking or playing, challenging for your dog. If you observe a drop in your dog’s stamina or activity level, a trip to the vet is warranted.

Decreased appetite or weight loss

Just like in humans, significant and sudden weight loss or loss of appetite can signal a serious health issue. This symptom tends to occur as the heartworms mature.

Heart failure

As a pet owner you may not be able to recognise the symptoms of heart failure in your dog, but your vet can detect symptoms such as a heart murmur or an enlarged stomach due to fluid in the abdomen (known as ascites) to help diagnose and treat your pet.

Other signs

Other signs of heartworm include blood in your dog’s urine, fainting spells, anaemia, high blood pressure or a rapid heartbeat.

Death from heartworm infection

Heartworm infection can progress from mild disease where dogs are asymptomatic or have a slight cough, to severe disease characterized by congestive heart failure, respiratory compromise, fainting spells and potential death. A complication of heartworm infection, known as caval syndrome, leads to shock-like symptoms and sudden death.

If you think your dog has heartworm, act fast

Heartworm disease is a serious and progressive illness in dogs – and the sooner it is treated, the better the chance your dog can avoid long-term health complications. If you suspect your dog has heartworm, take your dog to your vet as soon as possible so they can get tested.

Prevention is key

In the end, prevention is the best defence. To help avoid heartworm disease altogether, give your dog a regular heartworm treatment, such as Advocate®, an easy-to-use, spot-on treatment that protects against heartworm, as well as fleas and intestinal worms.

Advocate kills larval heartworms that infect the dog when the mosquito is feeding, before they reach maturity. Most products kill the larval heartworms that have infected the dog in the 30 days since the last treatment, and then are eliminated from the system, so do not provide any lasting effects. With monthly use, Advocate provides complete protection from heartworm.

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