Vet Blog

Facts About Heartworms

April 30, 2019

Heartworms. You've probably heard of them, but how much do you really know?

These parasites may not sound all that fearsome, but a heartworm infestation is a potentially deadly scenario for many animals. April is heartworm awareness month and as such, we feel it is important to make owners as aware as possible of the dangers of these debilitating parasites.

Here Are the Facts that You Need to Know About Heartworms

Heartworms Are Spread by Mosquitos

Parasitic worms are often thought of as being caused by consuming raw or rotten meat. However, heartworms are actually spread by mosquitos, which take little larvae into their body when they bite an infected animal. They then basically incubate it until they feed again and transfer it into the bloodstream of their next meal - your pet! There are around 30 species of heartworm believed to be capable of spreading heartworms.

Heartworms Can Affect Any Dog, Cat or Ferret in Any Location

Since heartworms are spread by mosquitos, many people mistakenly assume that their pet isn't at risk if they live somewhere where the climate is colder. Wrong! Unfortunately, mosquitos have evolved to be able to survive in much cooler temperatures and instances of heartworms have been reported in every state within the U.S. Not only are mozzies not fussy about what breed of dog, cat, or ferret they bite, they also aren't restricted by geographical location.

Heartworms Affect the Heart, Lungs, and Blood Vessels of Your Pet

Once in your pet's blood, the heartworm larvae will travel to your pet's lungs, heart, and the blood vessels attached to them. Here is where they will live, feeding off your pet's blood and reproducing. Dogs can have in excess of several hundred worms living in their body. As their numbers increase, so too does the effect that their presence has on your pet's body. Blood flow becomes compromised, breathing becomes much more difficult and the heart comes under strain. Other symptoms include a persistent cough, lethargy, reluctance to exercise.

Heartworms Can Be Deadly

Unless an animal is treated for heartworms fairly quickly, the condition can cause permanent damage to their heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. In some instances, blood flow can become completely blocked. This is known as Caval Syndrome and necessitates surgical removal of the worms from your pet's body. Even then, chances of survival are not great, and many pets still succumb to the disease.

Heartworm Disease Can Be Prevented Entirely

As caring and responsible pet owners, we want to keep our pets safe from harm and free from diseases. Fortunately, this is possible with heartworms. There are a range of different preventative products available and provided they are administered as directed and on time, they are extremely reliable and successful. Choose between topical ointments, chewable tablets, or injections. Your vet will be able to help you decide which is most appropriate for your pet. Many owners are concerned about the cost of preventatives, but for heartworms, regular preventatives can usually be obtained for under $20 a month.

Heartworm Treatment Isn't without Risk

Of course, as with any medical problem, prevention is always a much better option than trying to treat a disease. Not only is it much more cost-effective to prevent heartworms than treat them, the treatment that is available has a number of risks associated with it. These range from the possibility of blood clots developing to your pet reacting to the death of the heartworms in his body. Heartworms contain bacteria that leak into your pet's system when the body of the worm breaks up. Killing large volumes of worms at once increases the risk of this reaction, and for this reason, treatment is divided into multiple sessions, each requiring your pet to be carefully monitored at all times.

If you would like more information about heartworms and the ways to prevent them, or if you are concerned about your pet and would like to arrange an assessment to check for the presence of heartworms, please get in touch with our animal hospital in Navarre, FL today by calling (850) 939-6080.