Vet Blog

What Are the Common Symptoms of Heartworms?

April 18, 2019

Many pet owners have heard of heartworms and know the importance of getting their pet protected against this potentially fatal parasitic infection.

However, it is just as important not to underestimate how crucial it is to know the symptoms of heartworms.

One of the biggest misconceptions about heartworm infestations is that animals will start to experience symptoms relating to their condition shortly after contracting the disease. However, in the case of heartworms, clinical signs of infection typically don't appear until around 6 or 7 months after your pet has been infected - much later than you might expect.

In addition, despite our best efforts to keep our pets protected from heartworms, sometimes errors still occur. It could be that you were late in giving your pet their preventative, or perhaps your pet was sick and didn't receive the full dose of protection. Whatever the reason, it is valuable to know the symptoms of heartworms so that in the unlikely event your pet is affected, you will identify the problem and get your pet prompt treatment.

Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs

As a pet owner, it is your job to be vigilant for signs of illness in your canine pal. Animals are notoriously good at masking signs of illness, particularly when the symptoms are mild and easily overlooked in the first place. Often, by the time an owner realizes that their pet is sick, the condition that ails them is fairly well advanced.

Fortunately, there are some symptoms of heartworms that every owner should be aware of. These include the following signs of heartworms in dogs:

  • A soft, gentle cough that is non-productive (it doesn't produce any mucus)
  • Coughing or fainting after physical activity
  • General lethargy
  • Reluctance to play or exercise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Bulging chest (caused by an accumulation of fluid in the lungs)
  • Nosebleeds

Although very rare, it is not unheard of for heartworm infestations to penetrate the brain. If this happens, your dog may experience neurological symptoms including blindness, confusion, and seizures.

Symptoms of Heartworms in Cats

Since cats aren't the best natural host for heartworms, in many cases, the worms do not survive until adulthood and the immature worms will die and be processed out from your feline's body. However, this doesn't mean that they cannot cause any damage. The main problem that cats experience is known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease or HARD. The symptoms of HARD include:

  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing (known as dyspnea)
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular heart rhythm

Diagnosing Heartworm In Pets

If you notice symptoms that cause you to suspect that your pet might be suffering from a heartworm infestation, it is important that you seek the advice of your veterinarian in Miramar Beach, FL as soon as possible. This is because prompt diagnosis is essential to prevent too much damage from being done to your pet's health. The sooner he can be treated, the better the treatment outcome will be.

Blood tests are used to check dogs for the presence of heartworms. This looks for specific heartworm proteins, known as antigens, which female adult heartworms release into the bloodstream. However, the earliest that heartworm proteins can be detected in a dog's bloodstream is approximately 5 months after infection.

Unfortunately, there are no specific tests to diagnose heartworms in felines. Instead, a variety of general diagnostic tests are performed, including antigen and antibody tests, x-rays, and electrocardiographs. The results of these tests are used to determine whether or not your cat has heartworms.

If you would like more information about the symptoms of heartworms or parasite prevention in general, our experienced and dedicated team would be happy to schedule you an appointment. Please contact our vets in Miramar Beach, FL at Barry Veterinary Hospital by calling (850) 837-7072 if you are concerned that your pet may have some symptoms of heartworms.