Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) disease is a parasitic infection that compromises your pet’s heart and lungs. Heartworm infects a wide variety of species from dogs and cats to ferrets, foxes, wolves and even horses. Mature heartworms infect the circulatory system and may cause your pet to become very sick or even die. Adult heartworms can be as long as 17cm (males) to 27cm (females). Early stages of the infection may cause breathing difficulties.
How does my pet become infected?
Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes transfer the worm larvae from infected animals to your pets; larvae develop into worms that live in the heart and vessels. Heartworms mature and migrate throughout the body, eventually inhabiting the arteries of the lungs and the right side of the heart. While it can cause serious health issues, even death, heartworm is both treatable and preventable. So if you have mosquitoes in your area, your pet is at risk. Indoor-only pets are also at risk for heartworm disease. It just takes one mosquito to infect your pet.
Why is heartworm disease dangerous?
Mature heartworms interfere with a dog’s blood flow and cause inflammation in and around the vessels of the heart. This can lead to a weakening of the heart muscle, affecting the heart’s ability to pump blood. Other complications of the disease include liver and kidney failure. Any one of more of these health issues may lead to death.
Most common signs of infection
No sign at first, then:
- Mild, persistent cough
- Reluctance to move or exercise
- Tiredness after moderate exercise
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Low red blood cell count (anemia)
- Fainting (syncope)
- Enlarging of the liver (hepatomegaly)
- Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
If left untreated, heartworm disease can progress to heart failure, lung disease and sudden death.
Why should my dog be tested for heartworm disease?
Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease has been found in dogs in all 50 of the United States. Once a dog is infected, heartworm larvae begin to mature and enter the pulmonary arteries and heart. While heartworm is both treatable and preventable, it is a serious and deadly disease that shows no signs in its early stage.
Why is testing important?
Heartworm infection often shows no signs in dogs in the early stages. Testing is the only way to confirm infection status and determine whether treatment is necessary. Also, dogs on preventives sometimes test positive. Annual screening can help you determine if a patient is heartworm-free and whether preventives are working.
What can I do about it?
Heartworm is virtually 100% preventable. We recommend heartworm testing annually, in the springtime (around May 15th). It’s a simple blood test and results are obtained in less than 10 minutes. There are a few preventive options from a monthly pill to topical treatment, which you would then start on June 1st. Come in a speak with us today to learn about how you can protect from heartworm disease! Prevention of heartworm is much easier than treatment.