How can I tell if my dog ​​has worms?

A dog may not show signs of worms.

At home, after considering whether preventive care has been applied in the past, basic observation is the best way to tell if a dog has worms. The owner can sometimes see that their pet has symptoms such as labored breathing, fatigue, and joint pain, but in many cases, pets don’t show symptoms until it’s too late. Veterinarians are essential in providing a formal final diagnosis when someone suspects an infection with these parasites, as they can perform a variety of tests to confirm the condition. Individuals should reject the common misconceptions that their dogs cannot be sick because they are “inside” the animals or do not live in an area known to be sick.

understanding the disease

Veterinarians recommend giving heartworm pills to animals to prevent heartworm infection, which can be expensive and difficult to treat.

Heartworms, or Dirofilaria immitis, are a parasite that mosquitoes carry. Insects transmit them to animals, including dogs, when they try to bite for food. When this happens, the larvae begin to travel through the tissues of the host’s body, eventually reaching the heart, major blood vessels, and lungs. There, they continue to grow and, if left untreated, can result in heart failure and death.

Surgery may be necessary to rid a dog of heartworm.

To dig a little deeper, the passage of these parasites from one animal to another begins when a mosquito picks up blood already infected with microfilariae, or baby worms. These molt twice, after which they can move through the mosquito’s saliva to a new host. After the larvae are transmitted, they continue to grow and migrate, developing into adults in about six to seven months. Although a single already infected mosquito can bite more than one owner’s dog, passing the disease to each animal, dogs cannot transmit it to each other because microfilariae must initially develop inside the insect. For the same reason, it is also extremely rare for an uninfected mosquito to bite an infected animal, survive the parasite’s incubation period, and then bite and transmit the disease to a second animal.

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Previous Preventive Care

Canine liver damage is often attributed to heartworm disease.

Sometimes owners and vets can make an initial conclusion about whether a dog has worms by considering whether he is on a vet-recommended treatment for prevention. Many veterinarians prescribe medications in the form of monthly pills, but they are also available as topical creams and injections. If one has conscientiously applied one of these options to the dog from birth, a heartworm infection is statistically unlikely: they are effective 98% of the time. The 2% failure rate, however, requires at least considering the possibility of infection if symptoms are consistent with the disease.

Infection warning signs

Blood samples can help reveal certain infections.

Often, a dog with worms does not initially show any symptoms, because it takes months for the newly present larvae to grow, move around the body, and develop into fully reproducing adults. At first, the animal may experience some tiredness during exercise or develop a cough, becoming easily breathless, as the parasites damage the arteries, causing inflammation and blockages that eventually lead to the accumulation of fluids that make breathing difficult. Sometimes it is also possible to hear abnormal sounds coming from the lungs.

Heartworms are normally transferred via mosquitoes.

As the disease progresses, the immune system struggles to deal with the problem, but the standard inflammatory response, which helps transport antibodies to the injured areas, extrapolates, often damaging joints and causing problems with liver, eye, and liver function. kidney . A dog at this stage can also lose weight. In some cases, he will pass out unexpectedly and death usually follows soon after, sometimes in just a day.

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Veterinary examination, testing and confirmation

Professionals can usually detect these infections by taking blood samples and standard x-rays. Technicians who perform the first option look for a specific protein that female heartworm gets rid of during reproduction and often link this investigation to the Modified Knotts test, which requires a professional to place a blood sample in a centrifuge and examine it. a in search of microfilariae. X-rays can detect much of the damage to the heart, arteries and lungs that initially occurs, allowing the veterinarian and owner to see the severity of the problem and make some decisions about how to proceed with treatment.

Other tests can also confirm that a dog is sick. The animal might go through tests that measure how its organs are functioning, for example, or it might complete a cardiac stress test. Combined with blood testing, X-rays and a general, physical examination, these methods catch many cases of the illness, increasing the chances of survival.


If tests come back positive, the veterinarian typically treats a case of heartworms with melarsomine dihydrochloride, often sold under the name Immiticide®, which they give through injection. It can have severe side effects, including vomiting and fever. In very severe cases where a dog is collapsing, he might opt ​​to try to remove as many worms as possible with jugular surgery. The guarantee of success is not possible, however, and often, even if the operation removes the parasites, the damage to the animal’s body from the condition is usually so severe that it dies. Owners frequently are willing to try everything they can to help their pet, but many cannot afford the added expense of a procedure that vets know might not help, and sometimes, they believe it is better to put it to sleep to spare it additional suffering.

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Additional Considerations

Some owners believe they can assess their dog’s risk of having heartworms by whether it is an “inside” or “outside” pet, but in reality, where it spends most of its time makes little difference. Although dogs that live outside generally have more opportunities to become infected and can be considered to be at a higher risk as a result, nearly all dogs go outside at some point and, therefore, are susceptible to being bitten by an infected mosquito. Even animals that remain inside for extended periods of time can be bitten by mosquitoes that find their way indoors.

Another consideration is that, as Sheldon Rubin, who served from 2007 – 2010 as president of the American Heartworm Society, points out, the problem is spreading to areas where it was relatively uncommon in the past. Much of this is due to improvements in irrigation, which create areas of water where mosquitoes can breed even in arid climates. Rubin cautions owners against thinking that their pets are fine just because their region previously had a reputation for being free of the problem.

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