1. What Pets Can Get Heartworm?
Most common in dogs, this disease can also affect cats, ferrets and even humans (rare).
2. What Are Heartworms?
Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) are thin, long and string-like parasites. They can grow to a tremendous length of 15-36cm. These parasites can cause serious harm and be deadly in the long run.
It starts with a female mosquito bite that is infected with heartworm larvae. These larvae then migrate through the bloodstream until they reach the heart, spreading to the adjacent blood vessels. They can affect many organs of the animal from the heart, lungs kidneys and liver. Making symptoms varied.
3. The Life Span Of Heartworms
Inside a dog, they can live from 5-7 years. It can take up to 6-7 months for the larvae to mature and reproduce. The average amount of worms that can live inside, for example, a dog is 1-250.
Inside a cat, they can live for 2-3 years. Most heartworms do not survive to the adult stage in cats but still are at risk. Up to 2 1⁄2 months to mature and procreate. The average amount of worms are 1-3.
4. What Damage are They Causing?
Heartworms causes disease by clogging up the heart and major blood vessels leading from the heart. This includes the pulmonary arteries which carry blood to the lungs. If obstructed by heartworms, the blue supply to other organs decreases. Furthermore, by clogging major blood vessels and valve action in the heart, this, in turn, causes organ malfunction from the lack of blood flow.
This can cause lasting damage to the organs and the quality of life even after they are removed.
In cats, it only takes a few worms to cause blockages and many more for a dog.
5. Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
Animals can exhibit no visible signs or minimal for example an infrequent cough.
Signs include moderate symptoms:
-Unwilling to carry out moderate amounts of exercise
Symptoms are very noticeable in this stage:
-Loss in body condition (greasy/dry hair, weight, and muscle loss)
-More unwilling to exercise
-Swollen abdomen (Fluid build-up in the abdomen)
-Coughing up blood
Symptoms are very visible of heartworm. These dogs are very ill and will have more severe symptoms of stage 4.
6. How Does It Spread and Where?
Since transmission requires a mosquito as the host, it cannot spread from an animal to another. Therefore, it relies on the mosquito season, this can last year-round in parts of the United States. Humans and other mammals are more like accidental hosts as the worms don’t create the microfilariae required for transmission.
7. What Mosquitos Species Can Carry Heartworms?
Some suggest there are more than 20 species and the abilities of mosquitos are growing.
8. Prevention Is Key
-Prescription heartworm pills/chewable (monthly)
-Topical skin products
-Regular testing’s for overall health (each year)
-Use screens indoors
-No standing water indoors
-Keep home a cool and dry (humid environment offers comfortable lodging for mosquitos)
9. How Vets Test For Heartworms?
Test for microfilariae (Juvenile heartworms) in their bloodstream
X-rays to determine your pets overall condition and treatment plans
Blood cell count
10. What Treatments Should I Expect?
It will depend on the severity of your beloved animal’s heartworms. Here are the treatments they may receive:
-Rest is important for your pet’s recovery
-Medication to kill microfilaria
-Injections to kill adult heartworm
-Surgical removal (most likely in stage 4 of symptoms)
11. How To Manage a Pet With Heartworms?
-Restricted exercise is essential to treatment success.
-Follow up appointments to see if heartworms are completely gone after treatment.
-Prevention medication and strategies to keep them from contracting heartworm again or more.
There are many treatments for this disease but they can be painful. Prevention tools and spotting the signs early are critical to maintaining your loving pet’s health.