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Heartworms are transmitted to dogs through mosquito bites. In many cases, these organisms can be dealt with through a complex course of medications, but the treatment process can be long and intense.

The best way to deal with heartworms in dogs is by taking preventative action, such as giving your dog Heartgard Plus Chewables for Dogs and watching for the symptoms of a heartworm problem.

Once these parasites find their way into your dog’s lungs, a range of symptoms can occur. Noticing there is a problem early on increases the chances of your dog making a full recovery — so watch out for the following telltale signs of a heartworm infection.

1. A dry cough

Once heartworms arrive at the lungs, they begin to multiply. In just a matter of weeks, an infected dog will develop a dry cough, which will be particularly noticeable during and after exercise. If the infection is serious, even light exercise will often cause a dog to faint.

2. Weight loss

As the flow of blood around a dog’s heart and lungs becomes impeded by the presence of heartworms, everything becomes exhausting — including eating. If you notice that your dog has lost its appetite and dropped a few pounds very quickly, heartworm disease could be the cause.

3. Breathing problems

Restricted blood flow around a dog’s heart and lungs will eventually lead to a shortage of oxygen. To compensate for this, the infected dog will breathe heavily and pant more — even during times of inactivity. The problem can be further complicated by the build-up of fluid in and around the lungs, which makes oxygenation of blood increasingly difficult.

4. Apparent allergic reactions

What might look like an allergic reaction to you could be a symptom of a heartworm infection. Seizures, nose bleeds and the various symptoms of an asthma attack might all be related to these potentially deadly parasites. Although your dog might be prone to allergic reactions, it’s always best to get it checked out by a vet — particularly if other symptoms of heartworms are present.

5. An enlarged chest

As the number of heartworms inside a dog increases, its chest may start to bulge. Also, an infected dog’s ribs may seem to protrude. One of the causes for this bulging appearance might be the weight loss caused by the infection. However, an enlarged chest may also be the result of an accumulation of fluid around the lungs.

6. Tiredness

No one knows your dog like you do, so you’ll know when he or she is struggling with activity. Infected dogs sleep a lot, and they often resist going out for walks. You might find that your dog wants to rest after every few steps, or that he or she just isn’t as enthusiastic about games as usual. If your dog generally seems lethargic and out of sorts, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

7. Collapse

When heartworms have multiplied to the extent that they block the normal flow of blood, a dog is likely to collapse. In many cases the dog goes into shock, which means the only viable option is surgery — which involves “pulling” the worms out through a major vein.

The final stages of heartworm disease are some of the most distressing. Infected dogs often experience blindness and lameness as a result of worms moving to other areas of the body. But with the right preventative medications, regular checks and vigilance on your part, any heartworm infections your dog experiences can be treated before they cause any serious problems.