April is National Heartworm Awareness Month

April 4, 2018

Most pet owners are aware of the importance of flea and tick preventative, but unfortunately, many owners in our area still don't know much about heartworms and heartworm prevention - and the consequences can be fatal to pets. 


April is national heartworm awareness month, so let's start with the basics: taken directly from the American Heartworm Society (AHS), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to scientific progress in the study of heartworm disease, as well as advancing effective procedures for heartworm diagnosis, treatment and prevention. 


1. What are heartworms?

 healthy heart (left) vs heartworm infected heart (right)


Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. 


2. How are heartworms transmitted?


The heartworm lifecycle


The mosquito plays an essential role in the heartworm life cycle. Adult female heartworms living in an infected dog, fox, coyote, or wolf produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites and takes a blood meal

 from an infected animal, it picks up these baby worms, which develop and mature into “infective stage” larvae over a period of 10 to 14 days. Then, when the infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal, the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animal's skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound. Once inside a new host, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once mature, heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. Because of the longevity of these worms, each mosquito season can lead to an increasing number of worms in an infected pet.


3. What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?