What Happens in Heartworm Disease
By Wendy C. Brooks DVM, DABVP
Heartworm Disease vs. Heartworm Infection
Before reviewing the clinical signs seen in heartworm disease, an important distinction must be made between heartworm disease and heartworm infection. Heartworm infection by definition means the host animal (generally a dog) is parasitized by at least one life stage of the heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis). Dogs with heartworms in their bodies do not necessarily have adult worms in their hearts; they may have larval heartworms in their skin only. Dogs with heartworms in their bodies are not necessarily sick, either. Dogs with only larvae of one stage or another are not sick and it is controversial how dangerous it is for a dog to have only one or two adult heartworms. These dogs are certainly infected but they do not have heartworm disease.
On the other hand, dogs with heartworm disease are sick. They not only have the infection but they have any of the problems listed below because of it. Fortunately, heartworm disease is both treatable and preventable. Further sections of this web page explain both treatment and prevention; we will now discuss the damage heartworms can do to a dog’s body.
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