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What Happens When You Don’t Treat Heartworm?

By Gina Carey. May 11, 2012 | See Comments

What Happens When You Don’t Treat Heartworm?

Learn about the serious health risks you take when you don't treat your dog or cat for heartworm.

Heartworm is a roundworm parasite that is transmitted to dogs through mosquitos. Preventative medicine, like Iverhart, Advantage Multi, or Tri Heart Plus, is the best way to keep your pet protected from heartworm, but if your dog contracts this disease, consultation with your vet is essential.

Most dogs with heartworm can undergo some form of treatment, but they should be evaluated for heart, liver, and kidney function first to assess certain risks. Some dogs with heartworm can fight the disease off without treatment, but the risk of death or serious damage to your pet’s health is high.

Risks Associated With Untreated Heartworm Include:

  • Breathing issues: Heartworms take residence in pulmonary arteries, and at advanced stages, in the lungs. These parasites wreak havoc as they migrate through the organs, causing inflammatory changes and damaging tissue. Coughing is a symptom of heartworm that has affected the lungs, and your pet may have shortness of breath and cough both during exercise and while sedentary.
  • Inactivity: Dogs who were once healthy and active will show less endurance with a continued infection of heartworm. A sign of heartworm is listlessness and pets who appear tired, and these symptoms will endure if the disease goes untreated. Minor activity can cause shortness of breath and coughing, and as the disease worsens, most dogs will avoid exercise.
  • Lack of oxygen: As heartworms begin to grow, they will crowd the dog’s heart chambers. This slows down blood flow and decreases oxygen supply to the dog’s body. Dogs may experience loss of consciousness due to poor blood flow to the brain, and lack of oxygen will contribute to inactivity.
  • Organ damage: The heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver are at risk of major damage from untreated heartworm disease. Heartworms can live up to seven years in vital organs, and indirectly affect other organs like the kidneys from related stress. Their presence can cause permanent and irreversible damage to these organs, other tissues, arteries and blood vessels.
  • Death: Heartworm can cause sudden death, and some dogs die from heartworm without showing symptoms. The disease typically progresses over several years, and can eventually lead to death due to heart failure, blood clots, bleeding in the lungs, and caval syndrome.

If your pet shows signs of canine heartworm disease, be sure to consult your veterinarian to choose the best course of action.

Related Content

Heartworm Disease in Dogs: 5 Things You Should Know
Heartworm Symptoms
How to Prevent Heartworm in Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by,your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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