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Humane Society of
Wayne County, New York

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This page was last modified on Sunday November 18, 2012

Pets and Heartworm

After this cold winter, who is not ready for spring? Unfortunately along with the warmer weather come common parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. These common warm weather pests can be vectors, hosts, to a variety of disease carrying parasites that can effect your health as well as the health of your pet. One of the most deadly and also the most preventable diseases transmitted through a mosquito bite is heartworm. Heartworm is very much alive and well, particularly here in Wayne County.

Heartworm at one time was a major concern in only the warm climate of southern states and now the disease can be found in all 50 of the United States. Heartworm can infect dogs, cats, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and other small animals. The disease is spread by the bite of a mosquito. Mosquitoes serve as the vector or host of the heartworm larvae, picking up the larvae with their blood meal when an infected animal is bitten. Then the mosquito deposits the larvae in another animal when it seeks its next blood meal. As the larvae burrows into the animal and travels through to the animal's blood stream as it travels the larvae changes and eventually becomes mature as it arrives at the right side of the animal's heart where it will reproduce and may grow to twelve inches long. The heartworm can live in the animal's heart for several years. Depending on the size and activity level of an animal determines how soon the worm gets to the animal's heart and when the symptoms of the disease appear. An active animal will not show symptoms as soon as an animal that is a couch potato. The time between the initial introduction of the larvae and the maturation of the worm can be anywhere from six to seven months. During these initial months after infection a female heartworm can produce thousands of larvae a day. If undetected and untreated, this larvae can circulate throughout an animal's bloodstream for up to three years waiting to be spread through the next mosquito bite. In the meantime the worms grow and continue multiple blocking the right chambers of the infected animal's heart, blocking veins leading to the heart, lungs, and even the liver.

After about twelve months an infected animal will develop a mild cough, which may be overlooked as nothing. However, as the disease progresses the animal may faint from exertion, tire easily, become listless, lose weight, and cough up blood. The condition of an untreated animal will become progressively worse and the quality of animal's life will deteriorate as congestive heart failure develops and if the condition goes untreated eventual death.

Heartworm can be treated but the treatment is expensive and can be dangerous in an animal whose physical condition is already severely compromised. The object of the treatment is to kill the heartworms. During this treatment the animal must be kept very quiet while the body is absorbing the heartworms killed by the medication. Even a dead heartworm can kill the animal during treatment.

The best treatment for heartworm is prevention. There is a simple blood test that your veterinarian performs to determine if your pet is infected with heartworm. Once your veterinarian determines that your pet is not infected with heartworm a preventative medication will be prescribed.

Heartworm is very much alive and well in Wayne County with large number cases reported each year. Talk with your veterinarian about heartworm your pet will love for it!