If you have spent any time in vet's office, you have probably seen a picture of a canine heart with a heartworm infestation displayed somewhere. Pictures like this show what happens when pets fall victim to this parasite.
If you have never heard of heartworms before today, then you may have a few questions such as:
Heartworms are bloodborne parasites that cause a disease called dirofilariasis or heartworm disease, which can be fatal. As adults, heartworms live in the heart; it is rare for them to find them anywhere else in the circulatory system. The typical female heartworm is between 6 and 14 inches long and is about 1/8 inch in diameter with the male being about half that size. Juvenile heartworms can grow to maturity inside a dog. Upon reaching maturity, they will mate and reproduce. The process of maturation takes about six or seven months and the heartworms can live for as long as five years with the female able to produce millions of microfilaria, which is the term for the heartworm offspring.
The vector for heartworm disease is the mosquito. Mosquitoes serve only as an intermediate host. This means that when a mosquito bites an infected dog, it is infected with the microfilaria. When that mosquito bites another dog, it transfers the microfilaria to a new host.
How severe heartworm disease can get depends on the number of worms that are living in a dog and the way that the dog's body responds to their presence. Symptoms can range from an occasional cough in the early stages to a bulging chest, collapse and even death in the latter stages.
The most effective way is to purchase heartworm medication. This can come in the form of pills that you administer on a monthly basis, or as injections. There are injections that can protect your dog from heartworms for six months.
While you can treat pets for heartworm disease, it is best to keep it from occurring in the first place. Talk to your veterinarian about the risk of your dog or cat getting this disease and make sure that you are taking the appropriate preventive steps.