If you’re a dog owner, it’s almost certain you’ve heard about heartworms. After all, it’s one of the most common parasites that pet owners have to deal with, affecting around one in every 200 dogs.
While this is a relatively common ailment for man’s best friend, as well as your feline companions, many pet owners have no idea what heartworms really are, how they’re spread, how to protect your pets against them, and what to do once they’ve been diagnosed.
In this two-part series of posts, we’re going to go over some of the most important things pet owners need to be aware of when it comes to heartworms. We trust you’ll come away better equipped to take care of your beloved animal.
What Are Heartworms & How Are They Spread
Heartworms are foot-long (when fully grown) parasites that live in the heart, lungs, and even blood vessels of an infected animal. This parasite (known as microfilaria) is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that is already carrying immature worms.
Mosquitoes usually pick up this parasite from biting an already infected animal. Around 30 species of mosquito are capable of acting as intermediate hosts and transmitting this parasite.
Despite popular belief, heartworms are not spread through eating spoiled or raw food.
How Long Does It Take For Heartworms To Fully Grow?
Once your pet has been infected by the larvae, it takes around seven months for them to grow into mature heartworms. From there, these heartworms begin to mate and start to release their offspring into the bloodstream. It’s not unheard of for dogs to have 250 worms or more!
It may take a few years, but eventually these worms begin to affect the heart and other vital organs, causing lifelong damage. Needless to say, catching heartworms during the early stages is critical. Not only before permanent damage is done, but before worms have had a chance to really grow and multiply. A trained veterinarian knows exactly what to look for to catch heartworms before the problem grows.
Heartworm Symptoms To Look Out For
When it comes to heartworm infections, dogs are great at hiding their ailments. However, as the parasitic infection develops, you may notice some of these symptoms:
- Lethargy and an unwillingness to run and exercise
- Coughing, and even fainting, after strenuous exercise
- Lowered appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Less shine in a dog’s coat
- A dry cough that persists for an extended period of time
Heartworms have a more difficult time surviving in a cat’s body and typically do not survive into adulthood. However, heartworm respiratory disease (HARD) can still be a reality without medical intervention. So here are some signs you should look for if you’re worried about heartworm infections in your cat.
- Vomiting and other respiratory issues
- Difficulty breathing
How To Protect Your Animal Against Heartworms
While heartworms are a more common affliction in warmer states, evidence of the disease has been found in all 50 states. Additionally, there is no way to tell if a mosquito is carrying worms or not.
Talk to your veterinarian about taking a preventive approach to this parasite.
Book A Free Initial Consultation With Brook Farm Veterinary Clinic
At Brook Farm Veterinary Center, we believe wholeheartedly in the need to find the right vet for your furry friend. When you first visit with us, your initial consultation will be on the house. This gives you a chance to see if we’re the right fit for you and your animal.
Simply contact us online and a member of our team will reach out to schedule your appointment. We look forward to meeting you and your pets!