Symptoms Of Heartworms

The Top Symptoms of Heartworms

While symptoms of heartworms are typically seen in dogs, these worms can also be found in cats, as well as people.  These worms, also known as “Dirofilaria immitis” can kill if not eliminated.  For whatever reason, heartworms are most often found in the right side of the heart and lungs, along with pulmonary arteries.  Studies have also shown that pets kept outdoors are more susceptible than those kept indoors and males get heartworms more often than females do.

These worms are the result of an infected female mosquito laying larvae beneath the skin.  Once infected but prior to symptoms of heartworms appearing, they can live in the animal (or person’s) system for as long as seven months.  During this time, the larvae burrow deep through the skin, eventually getting into the bloodstream and then the heart.  Once in the heart, the larvae develop into mature worms, which can live in the heart and lungs up to five years.  When full grown, these worms can easily measure up to 12 inches in length.

What makes heartworms so challenging and the symptoms of heartworms so devastating is that both male and female worms produce offspring known as microfilaria.  The amount produced is in the millions, living in the small blood vessels up to seven years.  As the body is taken over, the symptoms of heartworms would have to do with the liver and lungs because blood flow has been reduced.  As larvae move through the body from the first infection or as new offspring is laid, if the dog, cat, or human were bitten by a mosquito, they would ingest them, staying in the mouth until the mosquito bites another innocent victim starting the process of infection all over.

The most common symptoms of heartworm seen include anemia, poor coat, abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, cough, shortness of breath, lethargy, fatigue, jaundice, bloody stool and/or sputum, and in humans, fainting after exercise.  As the disease progresses and the number of heartworm found within a single dog, cat, or person increases, symptoms would progress to include difficulty breathing, protruding ribs, and bulging chest.  In advanced stages, pulmonary clotting and heart failure can lead to death.  Considering that a single dog, cat, or human can have anywhere from 40 to 250 heartworms, it is easy to see the seriousness of the problem.

To confirm the presence of heartworms, an antigen detection test is conducted on dogs, as well as blood tests so microfilaria could be detected.  For cats, an antibody detection test would be used, which is extremely accurate.  Along with this, a quick blood smear would tell the veterinarian if microfilaria were present in the blood.  For people, blood tests would be used, again looking for the presence of microfilaria.

Unfortunately, heartworms are aggressive and testing is not foolproof.  Therefore, it is imperative that the latest testing be performed so if heartworms were detected, appropriate treatment could be administered.  Even the treatment to stop symptoms of heartworms and kill the worms is rough with older or very sick animals not making it through the treatment phase.  For dogs, cats, and people, once the outbreak of heartworm has been brought under control.  Preventative medication would be needed to keep the worms at bay.