A heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal, parasite that primarily infects the heart. Even though the dog is the natural host for this parasite, it can also affect cats, ferrets and other animals.
Heartworm is transmitted by a mosquito bite. In Florida, mosquitoes are everywhere and can transmit heartworms even to animals that never go outside. Like any other disease, prevention is better than treatment. There are several heartworm prevention products available; all of them with high efficacy. Your veterinarian can recommend the best product to use for your pet.
Important facts about heartworm disease:
Heartworms can only be transmitted from animal to animal by mosquito bites.
Dogs older than 6 months of age must be tested first, prior to starting on heartworm prevention.
Puppies and kittens should be started on heartworm prevention by 8 weeks of age.
Heartworms are about the length and diameter of thin spaghetti. Dogs can have over 100 worms in the right side of the heart and nearby vessels. One or two heartworms in the heart of a cat are enough to cause sudden death.
Heartworm prevention must be given every month, year round in order to be effective.
There is treatment available for dogs with heartworm disease. Complications of treatment in a dog with clinical signs of heartworm disease can be deadly.
There is no approved heartworm treatment for cats.
Life cycle of heartworms:
Mosquito bites an animal infected with heartworm microfilariae (young heartworms) enter mosquito microfilariae turns into infective larva in 2 weeks mosquito bites an uninfected animal and transmits the infective larva infective larva turns into adult heartworm within 6 months adult heartworms live mainly in the right side of the heart and nearby lung vessels male and female adult heartworms will mate and produce new microfilariae new microfilariae will be picked up by a mosquito and inserted into another uninfected animal and the cycle will continue.
Adult heartworms have a life span of 5 to 9 years and will cause severe damage to the heart and lungs. The microfilariae can actually cause damage to other organs, such as the kidneys. When the animal shows signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection, such as respiratory distress, heart failure, kidney failure, etc., it is called heartworm disease.
Visit the American Heartworm Society website for detailed information on heartworm disease.
Nydia Melissa Perez, DVM