Heartworms are parasites that live inside the arteries of lungs and chambers of the heart of infected animals. Dogs and cats are both susceptible to heartworm no matter the breed, sex or age but infection in dogs is more common. Heartworms can grow up to 30cm long and 2cm thick in servere cases. Microfilariae are the offspring of heartworm and can be found in the blood of an infected pet. The microfilariae are ingested and spread by mosquitos when they bite and feed on the blood of an infected pet. The mosquito becomes a host and the microfilariae mature. The same mosquito then bites another pet and infects the healthy pet with the microfilariae. The larvae migrate through the pet’s circulatory system and tissue which eventually reaches the lungs and heart. The heartworm then matures, grows and reproduces.
Heartworm affects the heart, liver, kidneys and general circulation. The lungs are the main area the heartworm affects. The pets react to the presence of the heartworm and can show many symptoms such as a dry and persistent cough, lack of stamina while exercising, dry coat, weight loss and weakness.
Heartworm is slowly fatal which is why it is important to recognise the symptoms and diagnose as soon as possible. By the time a pet starts showing symptoms half the pet’s lungs are impacted. A blood test can be done to tell if your pet has heartworm disease. This is the best way to ensure a quick diagnosis. There are many products to ensure heartworm prevention. Choosing a prevention method that is convenient for your lifestyle is best for your pet. There are once-a-year needles administered by your vet, monthly heartworm treatments in the form of spot-on treatments and chewable tablets.
Puppies should begin their heartworm prevention by three months. After three months the puppy may have been affected and will need to have a blood test to ensure they don’t have heartworm before treatment, as the treatment can cause side effects if the puppy is already infected.