Even the word “heartworms” may make you feel squeamish and uncomfortable. You may have heard of them before, but do you know enough to help prevent heartworm disease in your furry friend? If you want to ensure the health of your pet, read on to learn more about heartworm disease and how it can be diagnosed, treated, and prevented.
What Are Heartworms?
Heartworm disease is a serious disease caused by foot-long worms, called heartworms, that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of dogs. While it can affect other animals, dogs are a natural host, meaning that heartworms can mature and reproduce in dogs. Because they have been reported in all 50 states across America, heartworm disease is a serious issue.
What Would Heartworms Do To My Dog?
Mature heartworms clog the heart and major blood vessels leading to the heart. By clogging the vessels, blood circulation to other parts of the body is reduced. Reduced blood flow to the lungs, kidneys, and liver causes these organs to malfunction. Immature heartworms, known as microfilariae, are much smaller than their mature counterparts and can clog small blood vessels. Again, organs are deprived of nutrients and oxygen supplied by blood.
What Are The Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?
Unfortunately, by the time clinical signs are noticed, the disease is usually well-advanced. In the early stages of the disease, most dogs show no clinical symptoms. Signs of heartworms include a persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue, weakness, and loss of stamina. Dogs with serious cases may have heart failure or swelling in the abdomen, caused by fluid accumulation.
How Is It Transmitted?
Heartworm disease is not transmitted from dog to dog, but by mosquitos. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, fox, or another infected animal, it picks up baby worms. These worms mature into larvae, which are able to enter a new host when the mosquito bites another animal. It takes 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. After maturation, they can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs.
Because mosquitos are found nearly everywhere, all household pets are at risk for heartworm disease. Stray dogs or other wildlife may be carriers of heartworms and increase the chances of infected mosquitoes in your areas. Mosquitoes can also be blown great distance by wind and can easily enter homes. In many parts of the United States, mosquito season lasts all year round. Furthermore, each mosquito season can lead to more worms in an infected animal.
What Should I Do?
The American Heartworm Society recommends that you “think 12.” This means that you should get your dog tested every 12 months for heartworms, as well as have them on heartworm preventive 12 months a year.
Preventative options include pills, topicals, and injectable products. The cost of these options is fairly low, especially in comparison with the financial and emotional costs of heartworm disease treatment. If you want to protect and nurture the good health of your furry friend, bring him or her to a trustworthy clinic, like Cherrelyn Animal Hospital. Speak to veterinary professionals, who can recommend the best heartworm prevention plan for your pet.