Heartworm is a parasite that not all dog owners are particularly well versed on, but should be! It is a potentially fatal parasite that takes up residency in a dog’s heart and arteries, causing severe damage to both, and also affecting the lungs.  

Heartworms are transmitted by another pest– the mosquito. While the prevalence of heartworm fluctuates depending on where you live, it is on the rise across the US, so regardless of location, it is something you should be mindful of protecting your dog from.  

Prevention vs. Treatment. 

While treatment options are available, let’s start at the root of the problem and talk about prevention. Veterinarians usually recommend year-round heartworm prevention medication for your dog. There are various brands and forms of heartworm preventatives, but many come in a monthly flavored chewable tablet, and many dogs even find them to be delicious! Some forms of the preventive also prevent other intestinal parasites, which can be very convenient depending on where you live and what your dog is regularly exposed to. To best discern which choice is the right one for your pet, consult with your veterinarian.  

How can you obtain preventatives?  

Heartworm preventatives are prescribed by your veterinarian. Many veterinarians will prescribe a year’s worth after performing an annual heartworm test on your dog. Annual testing is important regardless of whether or not your dog is on a consistent preventative. Testing and detecting heartworm in the early stages will broaden your options for treatment and increase the chances of treatment success. Heartworms take up to six months to mature, so keeping up with annual testing will ensure that matured eggs are detected before prolonged damage to your dog’s body– particularly the heart, arteries, and lungs.  

What else can you do to prevent heartworm? 

Besides prevention and regular testing, you can do yourself AND your dog a favor and take measures to control the mosquito population surrounding your home. Lots of bug and pest control companies offer pet-safe treatment options that will keep these pests at bay, and ultimately, keep your backyard oasis more enjoyable and your pets safer. Give some local companies a call and inquire about pet-safe spray treatments.  

If having the yard treated professionally isn’t in the budget, you can always turn to pet-safe plant options that double as a mosquito repellant, such as lavender or rosemary. Mosquitos tend to lay their eggs in standing water, so be sure to empty out areas that may collect water after some rain.  

What are some symptoms of heartworm?  

It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with symptoms in case your dog is in distress and you need to assess a situation.  

Heartworm can be tricky because dogs often don’t show  symptoms in its early stages (which is why annual testing is so important!), but in more developed stages your dog may experience:  

  • Difficulty breathing 
  • A cough  
  • Lethargy  
  • Distended abdominal area 
  • Weight loss  

If you are observing any of these symptoms in your dog, contact your veterinarian, and consider this article your annual reminder to schedule a heartworm test for your dog!