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Common Illness in Puppies: Heartworms

05/06/2018 by Healthy Paws
May 6th, 2018 by Healthy Paws

Puppies’ immune systems are underdeveloped, and as a result, they are more prone to illness than fully-grown dogs. Heartworms are a fairly common yet serious health issue among young pets, both cats and dogs alike, and should be promptly treated by a veterinarian.

What are heartworms?

The disease known as heartworms is caused by a parasite spread by mosquitos. There are several steps to heartworm infection.

  1. When an infected mosquito bites the dog, it passes the parasite’s larvae into the bite site.
  2. The larvae burrow under the skin and undergo their maturation process.
  3. They then evolve into worms and are transported through the animal’s veins into its heart.
  4. Within the heart they can reach their full growth of 4 to 12 inches, and may even reproduce.

This process takes around six months to occur. As many as 250 heartworms can live inside a dog’s heart for up to five years. The heartworm life cycle can speed up in hotter climates and slow in colder ones. Smaller breeds and puppies can be heavily affected by the infection, as it takes fewer worms to clog their tinier hearts.

Symptoms of Heartworm Infection

The presence and type of physical symptoms are indicators of the severity of the infection; some puppies may show no outward signs, while others will have obvious ones. The following are all symptoms of heartworms, ordered from least serious to most:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Anemia (iron deficiency)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Fainting
  • Partial heart failure

Treatment of Heartworm Infection

Heartworms can be tricky to cure, as treatment depends on the dog’s age, the severity of infection, and the animal’s current health condition. Drugs can be used to kill the adult worms; however, these medications contain arsenic, and can provoke toxic reactions with lethal side effects in some pets. Dogs with medical conditions that prevent drug therapy – like liver, kidney, and heart diseases – require surgery accompanied by medications to kill any remaining worms. For some older dogs’ or those with severe infections, treatment is not an option; all you can do is limit exercise and medicate with aspirin and a heartworm preventative (to stop new worms).

Treatment costs depend on the size of your dog and the severity of the heartworm infection – the amount can also be subject to your veterinarian. The price typically runs from $300 to $1,000. Pet health insurance can cover most of the costs and is always a viable option, especially if you live in areas where heartworms run rampant.

Prevention of Heartworm Infection

The mosquitos carrying the heartworm parasite are especially prevalent in coastal areas throughout the Southwest and Gulf. However, anywhere mosquitos and dogs coexist, there’s a chance of heartworm infection. Preventative medications can be purchased for relatively cheap – anywhere from $25 to $80 for a year’s worth, depending on the dog’s size. However, these drugs must be given on a daily basis or will not be effective; missing even one dose can leave your pet susceptible.

Heartworms are a dangerous parasite that can prove lethal if left untreated. Puppies, with their weakened immune systems, can easily become overwhelmed by infection. If you live in a mosquito-infested area, invest in daily preventative medications to prevent the costly treatments of a full-blown heartworm infection. Watch for symptoms of the disease, and schedule regular veterinary check-ups for your puppy today!

Adopting a new pup? Check out our dog and puppy insurance and learn how you can save up to 90% on vet bills over the course of your canine’s life. You can start by getting a free quote.


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How to Save up to 90% on Vet Bills

Healthy Paws Pet Insurance covers up to 90% of vet bills for your dog or cat—don't miss out!