There is no mistake about it, heartworm is a deadly disease. Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm is a parasite that lives in the heart and blood vessels. Adult heartworms can grow nine to fourteen inches in length with up to 200 worms having been found in an infected dog’s heart.
The life cycle of the heartworm begins when an infected dog carrying tiny immature heartworms circulating in its blood, is bitten by a mosquito. The mosquito takes in the immature heartworm, or larvae, when it feeds. During the next two to three weeks, the larvae develop within the mosquito into the infective stage. When the mosquito feeds again, it can transmit infective larvae to a healthy dog. The larvae penetrate the dog’s skin, migrate through the tissues and develop over the next few months, eventually reaching the dog’s heart. Once in the dog’s heart, the worms grow and cause significant damage to the heart, lungs and other vital organs. If left untreated, heartworm disease can result in death.
Weakness, fatigue, coughing, loss of appetite and weight loss are signs that heartworm disease may be present. Unfortunately, by the time you recognize these signs your dog may have already suffered irreversible damage. Any dog exposed to mosquitoes is at risk of being infected. While hunting dogs and those leashed or in outdoor kennels are most susceptible, even dogs kept mainly indoors can be infected when taken for walks or released in the yard. Of course, mosquitoes also have a knack for finding their way into our homes.
Testing your dog routinely allows early detection if it has been infected with heartworm. Even if your dog tests positive, it can be saved if the disease is detected early enough. Dogs with adult heartworm must be treated with a series of injections of an arsenical compound to kill the worms. After the adult worms are gone, another drug is administered to kill any larvae circulating in the bloodstream. If the tests show your dog has no evidence of the disease, it should be put on heartworm preventative. Prevention consists of either a six month injection or monthly chewables such as Proheart, Trifexis, or Heartgard, that are given at home. These prevention’s inhibit the larvae from developing into adult heartworm if your dog is exposed to an infected mosquito.
Heartworm has been recognized in dogs for nearly a century and many advancements have been made over the years with its detection, treatment and prevention. Recently, however, heartworm is being recognized in our other popular family friend, the cat. Still untreatable in cats, heartworm is now being detected and prevention is also possible with a monthly chewable tablet.
To determine if your pet is free of Heartworm Disease we can test them with a simple blood sample. Your pet should be tested each year to insure they were not infected during the previous years mosquito season.