What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease for pets in many parts of the world. The disease is caused by foot long worms 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. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans. Heartworm infection can cause potentially serious damage to these arteries, eventually leading to heart failure, and in severe cases, damage other organs such as the liver and kidneys. In extreme cases, a dog can be infected with several hundred heartworms.
Coinciding with mosquito season, heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes that become infected with microfilariae while taking a blood meal from an infected dog. The microfilariae mature into the infective larval stage within the mosquito. When the mosquito then bites another dog, cat, or susceptible animal, it then passes the larvae into the animal's blood stream through the bite wound, resulting in heartworm infection. It then takes a little over six months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms that can live for five to seven years in the dog.
Heartworm Disease is Preventable!
Because heartworm disease is completely preventable, the American Heartworm Society recommends that pet owners take steps now to talk to their veterinarian about how to best protect their pets from this dangerous disease. Heartworm prevention is safe, easy, and inexpensive compared to treating a dog or cat after worms have matured into adults. While treatment for heartworm disease is possible, it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover.