Vet Blog

Heartworm Warning Signs to Look Out For

May 23, 2019

Being a pet owner means being completely responsible for the happiness, health, and overall wellbeing of your furry, scaled, or feathered family member.

If you have a dog, a cat, or a ferret, you are almost certainly already aware of the different parasites that could pose a threat to your pet, and in particular, heartworms. Heartworms are often considered one of the deadliest parasites due to the debilitating effects that an infection can cause.

If you have opted into preventative care (and hopefully you have!), you may not have given a great deal of thought to the signs and symptoms of heartworms. Nevertheless, understanding the warning signs of heartworms is extremely valuable. Sometimes just a single late dose or miss-administered treatment could leave your pet vulnerable to potentially deadly heartworm disease.

Heartworms Warning Signs

Some of the most significant warning signs of heartworms in pets include the following:

  • A soft, dry cough that seems worse after exercising or playing. This occurs because the worms are beginning to clog the lungs and surrounding structures, making breathing more difficult. Sometimes, an animal that is severely infected will faint from lack of oxygen or produce blood when they cough.
  • Rapid breathing or respiratory distress. If your pet seems like he is having to work particularly hard to breathe, it could be due to heartworm infection. Fluid can build around the blood vessels in the lungs, making it hard for them to oxygenate the blood, and this causes damage to his key bodily functions. You may also notice that his heart seems to be beating more rapidly than usual.
  • Lethargic behavior. Your previously perky and energetic pet may suddenly seem like he is lacking motivation and energy. He may avoid even the most menial of activities. Animals with heartworms find it difficult to be even remotely active due to the number of worms affecting their organs.
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite. Much like us, when animals aren't feeling well, they tend to lose their appetite. In addition to this, activities that require minor effort such as eating can seem too much like hard work. As a result, weight loss is a common factor among pets with heartworms.
  • A bulging chest. Although not the most common symptoms of heartworms, many animals who are affected by this parasite will find that their chest area appears to bulge outwards. This is enhanced by any weight loss.
  • Collapse. If a large number of heartworms completely block the flow of blood through the heart, your pet is likely to collapse and go into shock. This is known as caval syndrome or vena cava syndrome. At this point, it will be very difficult for your veterinarian in Andalusia, AL to successfully treat your pet and he may not survive more than a few days.

Less Common Warning Signs of Heartworm Infections

In the majority of cases, the heartworms will stay in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of your pet. However, it is not unheard of for parasites to get lost and end up in other parts of the body. In fairly rare cases, heartworms can migrate to the eyes and brain which causes neurological symptoms including:

  • Blindness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Lameness
  • Seizures

One of the most important things to realize about heartworms is that the symptoms are often subtle at first. This can make them easy to overlook, particularly when your furbaby is almost certainly doing everything that he can to mask the fact that he is unwell so that he doesn't appear vulnerable. This isn't a personal reflection on your relationship, but an instinctive behavior that stems from a time before animals became domesticated.

If you suspect that your pet has heartworms in any part of his body, it is crucial that you get him checked by your vet in Andalusia, AL as soon as possible. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can dramatically reduce the likelihood that your pet will experience long-term health complications as a result of their condition and improve the overall outcome of their treatment. Better still - ensure that your pet remains adequately protected against heartworms all year round by opting into a preventative care program. Your vet will be happy to advise you which preventative is most suitable for your pet.

If you would like more information on the heartworm warning signs that you need to look out for, please don't hesitate to get in touch with our experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated team at Jones Veterinary Hospital at (334) 222-4713.