What are the chances that an indoor dog contracts heartworm if they are not on a preventative medication?
Since heartworm is one of the most dangerous dog parasites, it’s a good question to know the answer to.
If you’re on the fence about giving your indoor dog a heartworm preventative, you’re going to want to keep reading.
We’ll be talking about how dogs get heartworm and what it does to them, especially if left unchecked.
Read on to find out how vulnerable indoor dogs are to contracting heartworm.
What are the chances that an indoor dog contract heartworm?
People who have dealt with heartworm can tell you that the treatment is long and expensive and not always effective.
It’s a potentially fatal disease which can have devastating complications. On the bright side, it’s a disease that it’s easy to prevent.
So, how big are the chances of indoor dogs getting these parasites?
Let’s start from the beginning.
How does a dog get infected with heartworm?
Most parasites are contracted through exposure to contaminated feces. Heartworm is not one of them.
Dogs get this nasty worm from a mosquito bite. Let’s me tell you how it happens.
As you know, mosquitoes feed of the blood of animals (and humans, of course).
So, when a mosquito sucks the blood from a dog infected with heartworm, it also picks up unexpected passengers.
I’m talking about baby heartworms, which mature into larvae in two weeks’ time.
- When the mosquito feeds of a potential heartworm host, the larva is deposited on the surface of the skin.
- Next, this larva enters the body through the wound left by the bite.
- In around six months it will mature to adult size.
Adult heartworm is around 4-6 inches, so it’s quite a long parasite. What’s more, they have a lifespan of around 5 years.
So, if your dog gets infected every single mosquito seasons, he can harbor as many as 300 worms at a time.
What do heartworms do to a dog?
By now you’re probably wondering what makes heartworm so dangerous.
As the name suggests, heartworms live in the heart and the blood vessels of the lungs. You can imagine what kind of damage these worms can do to these important organs.
Unfortunately, it takes years for any symptoms to appear.
So, you’ll probably notice some serious signs when several years have already passed since the infection, and the disease is in an advanced stage.
One of the biggest concerns is that the heartworms might clog the blood vessels and the heart.
As a result, the blood flow to the liver, lungs, and kidneys gets reduces, and these organs start to struggle to function properly.
In addition to this, immature heartworms circulate in the blood, which might lead to the destruction of lung tissues, cirrhosis when the liver is affected, and the build-up of toxins.
What are the symptoms of heartworms?
I already said that you might not notice anything wrong during the first few years. When symptoms do appear, they are:
- A persistent cough
- Lack of energy
- Reluctance to exercise
- Change in the appetite
- Weight loss
Most often you’ll notice that your dog is getting tired far easier than before. After simple exercises, Rover might faint or struggle to breathe.
That’s a warning flag that you should take your pet to the vet.
How is heartworm treated?
As I already said, heartworm is difficult to treat.
The prognosis depends on different factors such as how many worms have infected your dog, how much time they’ve had to grow, and the severity of the damage.
So, the sooner you identify the problem, the better.
Your vet will take some blood and check if immature heartworms are present. If they are, he will work on stabilizing your dog before he starts the treatment.
The usual treatment is injections which are meant to kill the adult heartworms.
After that, you’ll have to prevent your pet from exercising while the worms are dying and disintegrating. Then more injection will follow to kill the baby heartworms.
Can an indoor dog get heartworm?
I want to tell you that your indoor dog will be safe without preventive medication, but that’s not the case. In reality, it depends on several factors:
- Do you have mosquitoes?
- Has your dog got access to the outside world?
- Do you take your dog for walks in areas where there are mosquitoes?
- Is your house protected against mosquitoes?
- What is your vet’s opinion?
I would say that the chances of an indoor dog that doesn’t ever go outside are low to get infected. I’m talking never, ever leaves the house, even to go potty.
Even then, it’s still a possibility because mosquitoes are tiny and they can sneak into the house. So, I would say better safe than sorry.
As a pet owner, you must keep in mind that heartworm is now prevalent in most of the world.
Maybe the only place you don’t have to worry about the disease in the United States is Alaska, where vets have not documented any cases.
Still, I would speak to the vet before I take my dog traveling.