What are Heartworms and how can I prevent them in my dog?
Heartworms are every bit as disgusting and horrifying as the name suggests – they live inside the heart, lungs, and arteries of affected animals. A single worm can grow up to a foot long. Think about that for a minute.
Adult female heartworms also produce tiny baby worms called microfilaria that circulate through the bloodstream. Baby worms. Swimming in the bloodstream. It’s the stuff of horror movies. Only you and your vet can help prevent it.
How is Heartworm Disease Spread?
Mosquitos are nature’s vampires and they spread heartworms. When an infected animal is bitten by a mosquito, it not only ingests the blood, but also the microfilaria contained in the host’s blood. Over the next 10-14 days, the microfilaria mature into infectious larvae.
The mosquito is now highly infective, primed and ready to transmit the larvae the next time it bites an animal. It will take about six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms in the host animal, and from there, the cycle begins all over again.
- Mature heart worms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats.
- Each mosquito season put animals at risk for developing the disease or growing numbers of worms in already infected animals.
Signs of Heartworm Disease in Dogs
In the early stages, many dogs will show few symptoms or worse, no symptoms at all. The longer the infection is present, the more likely symptoms will develop. Get your dog tested, and onto a course of preventive treatment if your vet recommends it. Signs of heartworm disease may include:
- Mild persistent cough
- Lethargy/avoids exertion
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats
While most heartworms do not survive to adult stage in cats, it can happen. The signs can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include:
- Coughing or asthma-like attacks
- Periodic vomiting
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
Treatment of Heartworm Disease
Prevention, prevention, prevention. Effective treatments for heartworms in dogs do exist, but they are expensive and painful for your pet. There is no treatment for heartworms in cats.