Heartworm disease is a very serious and potentially fatal disease in animals, especially dogs, cats, and ferrets. It is caused by Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic worm. This disease can cause damage to vital organs like the heart and lungs, which, in many cases, leads to death. To make pet owners aware of this serious disease, Heartworm Awareness Month is celebrated in April every year. It’s a month where pet owners are taught all they need to know about this deadly disease.
Dogs are definitive hosts, which means that the heartworm thrives best in dogs. Naturally, you cannot protect your dog from getting the disease unless you’re well-informed on prevention methods. To make things easier for you, we have listed down a few things about heartworm that every pet owner should know.
- How Do Animals Get Heartworm?
Animals get heartworm through mosquito bites. Small larvae of heartworm are present in the blood of mosquitoes, which are transferred to animals when the mosquito bites them. You cannot tell if the mosquito is infected, and there is no other way for this disease to make its way to your pet.
- Which Hosts Do Heartworms Prefer?
Dogs are the natural hosts for this parasitic worm. They mature, live, and reproduce in the dog’s body. Cats are atypical hosts, and cats that get heartworm do not survive for long enough for the heartworms to mature. Cats with adult heartworms are found to host only a few (2 to 3) adult worms.
- What Damage Do Heartworms Cause?
Heartworms are capable of causing lasting damage to the vital organs. They affect the lungs, heart, and arteries. The damage is so severe that it lasts for a lifetime, even if the heartworms are gotten rid of.
- How Is Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?
Heartworms in the blood can be detected easily by a simple blood test. However, it may take up to 6 to 7 months for them to appear in the blood. As such, a good preventive measure is to get your pet’s blood tested every 6 months.
- Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
The symptoms of heartworm disease can help you identify it before the infection gets worse. The symptoms include a persistent cough, fatigue after only moderate physical activity, reluctance to exercise, weight loss, and reduced appetite. Heart failure and a swollen belly are normal when the disease gets worse.
- How Can Heartworm Disease Be Treated?
Treatment of this disease is very expensive, and it is different for all animals. Dogs are given adulticide to kill adult heartworms. The treatment may also include the use of steroids and histamines. In some cases, the dogs are operated on to remove adult heartworms from the chambers of their hearts.
To keep your dog safe from this deadly disease, the best thing to do is to get a blood test done every 6 months so that the presence of any heartworms can be detected during the early stages.