What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds. It is caused by parasitic worms called Dirofilaria immitis that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected dogs. If left untreated, heartworms can cause irreversible damage to a dog’s organs and can even lead to death.

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One of the challenges of diagnosing heartworm disease is that the symptoms may not be obvious or similar to other health problems. However, there are several common signs of heartworms in dogs that pet owners should be aware of.


One of the most common symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs is a persistent cough. This may be accompanied by wheezing or gagging, particularly after exercise or when the dog is lying down.


Infected dogs may also become lethargic and have less energy than usual. They may be reluctant to exercise or play and may seem to tire more quickly.

Weight Loss:

Dogs with heartworm disease may lose weight, even if they eat the same amount of food as usual. This can be due to a loss of appetite or because the body is working harder to fight off the infection.

Breathing Difficulties:

Heartworms can cause inflammation in the lungs and airways, which can make it difficult for dogs to breathe. They may pant excessively, have trouble breathing, or appear to be short of breath.

Swollen abdomen:

In some cases, dogs with heartworm disease may develop a swollen abdomen due to fluid buildup. This is known as ascites and can be a sign of advanced disease.

Reduced Stamina:

Dogs with heartworms may experience a decreased tolerance for exercise, tiring out much more quickly than before.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can perform a blood test to check for heartworms, and if necessary, recommend a course of treatment to rid your dog of the parasites.

What To Feed Dogs with Heartworms?

When it comes to feeding a dog with heartworms, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. Here are some tips to help ensure your dog is getting the nutrition they need during this challenging time:

High-Quality Protein for Dogs with Heartworms:

Protein is essential for dogs, especially those with heartworms. It helps to support the immune system and aids in the repair and regeneration of cells. Choose high-quality sources of protein, such as lean meats (chicken, turkey, and beef) and fish.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health and can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Consider adding fish or flaxseed to your dog’s diet to increase their intake of these beneficial nutrients.

Complex Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates provide energy and can help to maintain a healthy weight. Choose complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa, which are more nutrient-dense than simple carbohydrates like white rice and bread.

Limited Sodium for Dogs with Heartworms:

Dogs with heartworms may have fluid buildup in their lungs or abdomen, which can be exacerbated by excessive sodium intake. Choose low-sodium dog food and limit your dog’s intake of salty treats and table scraps.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to support digestive health and boost the immune system. Consider adding a probiotic supplement or feeding your dog yogurt, kefir, or other probiotic-rich foods.

Frequent, Smaller Meals For Dogs with Heartworms:

Dogs with heartworms may experience a loss of appetite or nausea, making it difficult for them to eat large meals. Consider feeding your dog smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to make it easier for them to get the nutrients they need.

In addition to these dietary considerations, it is important to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your dog is getting the care they need during treatment for heartworms. With proper nutrition and medical care, many dogs are able to recover from heartworm disease and enjoy a healthy, happy life.

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds. Fortunately, with early detection and treatment, many dogs with heartworm disease can go on to live long and healthy lives. One of the most important tools in detecting heartworm disease in dogs is the heartworm test.

What is a heartworm test?

A veterinarian uses a simple blood test to detect the presence of heartworms in a dog’s bloodstream. The test identifies antigens (proteins) that adult female heartworms produce. If the test detects these antigens in a dog’s blood, it indicates that the dog has a heartworm infection

When should dogs be tested for heartworms?

All dogs should be tested for heartworms annually, regardless of whether they are currently on heartworm prevention medication. This is because heartworm disease can develop even in dogs who are receiving preventive medication, and early detection is key to successful treatment.

Veterinarians recommend testing dogs for heartworm before starting a new prevention medication or if there has been a lapse in their medication regimen, in addition to annual testing.

How is a heartworm test performed for dogs?

The heartworm test is a simple blood test that can be performed by your veterinarian. The test typically involves taking a small sample of blood from your dog and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Some heartworm tests can be done in-house and provide results within minutes.

What happens if a dog tests positive for heartworms?

If a dog tests positive for heartworms, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. The treatment for heartworm disease can be lengthy and expensive, but early intervention can help to improve the chances of a successful outcome.

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend further testing, such as chest X-rays or ultrasounds, to determine the extent of the infection and assess your dog’s overall health.

The heartworm test is a vital tool in detecting heartworm disease in dogs. Testing your dog annually and promptly seeking veterinary care if they test positive can help protect your pet from the potentially devastating effects of heartworm disease

In conclusion, heartworm disease is a serious health issue that can be fatal if left untreated. However, by recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt veterinary care, pet owners can help protect their dogs from this potentially deadly condition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 My dog has heartworms how long will she live?

The prognosis for dogs with heartworm disease depends on the severity of the infection and how quickly treatment is initiated. With early detection and treatment, many dogs can live long and healthy lives.

Can I give my dog heartworm medicine without testing?

Veterinarians do not recommend giving heartworm medicine to your dog without testing them first.

Is heartworm contagious to other dogs?

No, heartworm disease is not directly contagious from dog to dog. It is only transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito.

How long does it take doxycycline to kill heartworms?

Doctors do not use Doxycycline to kill heartworms directly. They often prescribe it as part of a multi-step treatment protocol to help reduce the number of bacteria living in the heartworms and make them easier to kill with other medications

How long does a heartworm test take?

A heartworm test typically takes only a few minutes to perform, although the time it takes to receive results may vary depending on the testing method used. In-house tests can provide results within minutes, while tests sent to a laboratory may take several days to a week.

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