SILENT Killers

If you love your pets, you’ll protect their hearts


Dear Davi,

Is it true that worms can get inside my heart? I thought worms only crawled on pavements and palings.


Arnold the Affenpinscher


Absolutely they can get in the heart! Maybe you’ve seen an image posted at the vet’s of a canine heart clogged with spaghetti-like worms. That gruesome image should be testimony enough to take action.

How do dogs get heartworms?
It starts with the bite of an infected mosquito. From there, the worms penetrate tissue, move to the bloodstream, and enter the heart and lungs. There’s no other way dogs get heartworms. And there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected—not even if you ask them.

What happens if I become infected?
Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart and lungs, and can affect your quality of life long after the parasites are gone. Prevention is the best way to protect yourself against the enemy.

What can I do if I become infected?
No dog wants to hear that he has creepy crawlies inside his ticker, but the good news is that most infected dogs can be successfully treated. Before treatment can begin, your condition may need to be stabilized. This process can take several months.

What are the symptoms?
In the early stages, there may be few symptoms or none at all. But as more and more worms crowd the heart and lungs, you may develop a mild cough. As it progresses, you might be reluctant to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity and lose your appetite. Your vet may notice abnormal heartbeats and a swollen belly from excess abdominal fluid. By the time signs are visible, the disease is usually well advanced. Most dogs die without treatment.

What is the treatment?
The first thing to understand is that there is a significant difference between heartworm prevention and heartworm treatment. Prevention is simple and effective to protect you against heartworm disease. Treatment is for dogs already sick.

Once it’s confirmed that you have heartworm, it’s time to work with your vet to establish a recovery plan. This includes rest, treating the symptoms and administering medicine proved to kill the culprits. Most plans require a two-step approach: In one treatment, adult heartworms are killed; a second treatment destroys baby heartworms. You’ll need to stay on a prevention regimen during treatment to avoid re-infection.

As heartworms die, they may obstruct blood vessels to the lungs, causing blockage, which can be fatal. You must be kept extremely quiet for four weeks after treatment to sidestep the risk.

How can heartworm disease be prevented?
The best news about heartworm is that it’s easily preventable.  Several products are available for combating heartworm infection, most of them chew tabs administered once a month—so tasty you won’t believe it has the power to protect you!

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Heartworm disease is a silent killer that’s often overlooked until it’s too late. Fortunately, heartworm can be prevented and successfully treated when caught in time. The American Heartworm Society recommends yearly heartworm testing for all pets, including ferrets. Make a pledge to protect your pet!

For more information, go to

Get healthy, stay healthy!

Davi the dachshund doesn’t take life too seriously—except when it comes to heartworm and protecting his mom.

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