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Heartworms 101

June 1, 2023

Did you know that heartworms are one of the deadliest parasites your beloved pet is susceptible to? Heartworm infestations aren’t visible to the naked eye, and they’re completely asymptomatic at first. However, as the infestation progresses, the worms will begin to interfere with your furry pal’s vital organs, which can be fatal. An Ashburn, VA vet discusses some basic facts about heartworms below.

Life Cycle

It’s important to understand heartworm life cycles, and how these dangerous parasites work. Heartworms are transmitted by everyone’s favorite insect: the mosquito. The worms are microscopic upon transmission. However, they grow quickly inside a host, reaching maturity at about six months. At that point, they start multiplying, and take up residence in pets’ hearts, lungs, and arteries.

Contagion Hot Zones

The mosquito link here makes heartworms particularly treacherous. That means Fido doesn’t necessarily have to come into direct contact with infested dogs to contract heartworms: he only needs to be bit by a mosquito that bit one. Anyplace with both mosquitos and dogs is a potential risk, but your canine pal can also get bit while he’s sleeping in his doggy bed on a summer night.


Coughing is often the first sign that something is wrong. Other red flags include depression, weight loss, exercise reluctance, and staggering. As the infestation gets worse, more serious issues will begin to occur. These may include things like fainting, seizure, heart attacks, and, unfortunately, death.


There is some good news here: simply keeping up with Fido’s preventative care will keep him safe. It’s also important to have your furry friend tested regularly, as some heartworms are developing a resistance to preventative products.


Treatments are available, but they’re much more complicated than simply giving your pooch a dewormer. Your canine buddy may essentially be put on doggy bed rest, and may even need to be kenneled during the course of treatment. Severe cases may require surgery.


While heartworm infestations are generally associated with dogs, our feline pals are by no means out of the woods here. Although heartworms can’t reproduce as well in kitties as they do in dogs, they can and do infest cats. Even a single adult worm can cause serious organ damage or even death in cats, even if they’ve shown no symptoms. Keep Fluffy protected as well!  

As your Ashburn, VA veterinary clinic, we’re here to help! Contact us anytime!