Did you know that more than one million dogs currently have heartworm disease? This tiny parasite has been known to make dogs seriously ill, and if left untreated, it can even kill them. Heartworm is prevalent in both dogs and cats and it threatens animals, including coyotes, foxes and even sea lions, all across the United States, including those living in Hawaii. It also affects animals that live in warm climates around the globe, as well. April is Heartworm Awareness Month and in this post we are going to talk about heartworms, how they are spread and what you, as a pet owner, can do about them.
Heartworm, or Dirofilaria immitis, is a parasite roundworm that is spread from host to host through the bite of a mosquito. The heartworm is small, about a foot in length, and it looks like a thread that wiggles. Heartworms live in the heart and lungs of our pets as well as in the pulmonary artery of the heart. If not caught and treated heartworm can cause death because they cause the heart to fail. They can also damage organs within your pets’ body but the good news is this…heartworm disease is preventable. Understand that while you can’t protect your dog, or cat, from ever being bit by a mosquito, you can however safeguard their health by preventing heartworm larvae from starting and completing their life cycle within the body of your pet.
Heartworms are commonly found in dogs which means that once a dog is infected the heartworm lives inside him or her and the life cycle begins. The heartworm will mature into adults and mate and produce offspring, all while living inside the body of an animal. If heartworm is not detected and treated, then the number of heartworm will continue to grow. As many as one hundred heartworm, have been found living inside bodies of dogs, causing damage to the heart, lungs and arteries of the heart. Once treated, the health of a dog may be affected for the rest of the dogs’ life, resulting in poor quality of life in the dog.
Heartworm in cats is different than heartworm disease in dogs. Cats are not the typical host for heartworm and most worms born inside a cat do not survive to grow into the adult stage of life. Cats generally just have one to three worms and once treated, cats go on to live normal healthy lives.
Heartworm is spread when a mosquito bites and takes a meal of blood from an infected animal. The mosquito picks up the baby worms that are living in the blood. These worms, or larvae, grow and develop between 10 and 14 days. When the mosquito bites another dog, cat or animal, the immature larvae are dropped onto the skin of that animal and they then enter the host through the mosquito bite. That being said, it then takes approximately six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once the heartworm, are adults they can live for five to seven years in dogs and two to three years in cats. The lifespan of the heartworm is long enough that they can cause damage year after year, if your pet isn’t treated.
Heartworm in dogs is usually treated with three injections of a drug called melasormine. The first injection will kill the adult heartworms, the second injection, a preventative, will kill juvenile heartworms and the third injection—doxycycline and prednisone—will reduce the chance that your dog will be affected by nasty side effects of the drugs used to treat heartworm.
More severe cases of heartworm are often treated through surgery. This surgery will remove the worms that are living in the heart of the lungs of the infected dog.
Due to the fact that cats are not the normal host for heartworm, there is no drug on the market to treat heartworm. The situation will usually resolve itself on its own over time. The drugs that are used to treat heartworm in dogs are not safe enough to be used on cats.
Today we would like to thank www.heartwormsociey.orgfor helping us with this post. Visit their website to read more about heartworm including signs and symptoms of heartworm disease within your pet.
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