Why Dogs Get Heartworms

Heartworm illness is a deadly condition that can kill pets, primarily dogs, cats, and ferrets, and cause severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death. Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic worm, is the culprit. The worms are transmitted via a mosquito bite. The dog serves as the sole host, allowing the worms to develop into adults, reproduce, and have progeny while within the dog. The mosquito serves as an intermediary host, meaning that the worms must spend a brief period of time there before they may spread infection (able to cause heartworm disease). Because the adults of the worms reside in an infected animal’s heart, lungs, and related blood vessels, they are known as “heartworms.”

Heartworm illness has been documented in dogs in all 50 states, but it is most prevalent along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, from the Gulf of Mexico to New Jersey, as well as along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.

What are the early indications of canine heartworms?

In the United States and many other countries across the world, heartworm illness in pets is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Heartworm disease affects pets and is brought on by foot-long worms (heartworms) that reside in the heart, lungs, and blood arteries nearby. These worms cause heart failure, severe lung disease, and harm to other body parts. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are the most common animals affected by heartworm illness, but heartworms can also infect wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and, in rare cases, people. Wild animals like foxes and coyotes are major disease vectors because they frequently reside close to urban areas.

Dogs. The dog serves as a natural host for heartworms, allowing them to develop into adults, reproduce, and create offspring. Dogs have been known to have hundreds of worms in their bodies, and their numbers can grow if left untreated. Heartworm disease damages the heart, lungs, and arteries permanently and can have an impact on a dog’s health and quality of life even after the parasites have disappeared. Because of this, prevention is always the best course of action, and when treatment is required, it should be given as early in the course of the disease as feasible.

Cats. Heartworm disease in dogs and cats is significantly distinct from one another. The cat is an unusual host for heartworms because few worms in cats mature to adulthood. Heartworm-infected cats frequently have no adult worms and only one to three adult worms in their bodies. This means that heartworm sickness in cats is frequently misdiagnosed, but it’s crucial to realize that even juvenile worms can harm an animal by causing heartworm linked respiratory disease (HARD). Cats can only be protected from the effects of heartworm disease through prevention because the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be administered in cats.

How is heartworm disease transmitted from one pet to another?

The mosquito is crucial to the life cycle of the heartworm. Microfilaria, tiny baby worms produced by adult female heartworms afflicted dogs, foxes, coyotes, or wolves, circulate in the bloodstream. These tiny worms are picked up by a mosquito when it bites and drinks blood from an infected animal. Over the course of 10 to 14 days, these baby worms grow and mature into “infective stage larvae.” The infectious larvae are then left on the skin’s surface of the new host and enter through the bite wound of the infected mosquito when it bites a different dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal. The larvae take about six months to develop into adult heartworms once they have settled inside a new host. Heartworms can survive once they reach maturity for up to 2 or 3 years in cats and for 5 to 7 years in dogs. Due to the lengthy lifespan of these worms, an infected pet may develop an increasing number of worms with each mosquito season.

What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?

Many dogs have little or no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. The likelihood that symptoms will appear increases with the length of the infection. Dogs that are active, have severe heartworm infections, or have other health issues may exhibit strong clinical indications.

A slight chronic cough, resistance to exercise, weariness after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss are all potential heartworm disease symptoms. Pets who have heartworm illness may eventually experience heart failure and a large belly because of an excess of fluid in the abdomen. Large heartworm infestations in dogs can cause sudden obstructions in the heart’s blood flow, which can result in a potentially fatal form of cardiovascular collapse. The symptoms of caval syndrome include dark crimson or coffee-colored urine, pale gums, and an abrupt beginning of difficult breathing. Few dogs survive without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm obstruction.

How significant is my pet’s risk for heartworm infection?

Even if heartworms don’t appear to be an issue in your neighborhood, there are still several things to take into account. Heartworm disease may be more prevalent in your neighborhood than you realize, or you may unintentionally take your pet to a location where heartworms are more prevalent. Each year, new areas of the nation are becoming infected with the heartworm illness. Heartworms can be carried by stray and neglected dogs as well as some wild animals including coyotes, wolves, and foxes. Heartworm illness is spread by mosquitoes carried far by the wind and by sick animals being moved to previously unaffected areas ” (this happened following Hurricane Katrina when 250,000 pets, many of them infected with heartworms, were “adopted and shipped throughout the country).

Heartworm illness has been identified in each of the 50 states, and risk variables are illogically unpredictable. Infection rates vary significantly from year to year, even within communities, due to a number of factors, including climatic fluctuations and the presence of wildlife carriers. Additionally, both indoor and outdoor pets are at risk since sick mosquitoes can enter buildings.

The American Heartworm Society advises that you as a result “consider 12: (1) Have your pet tested for heartworm every 12 months, and (2) administer heartworm preventative to your pet every month of the year.

What do I need to know about heartworm testing?

Heartworm infection is a dangerous, developing illness. The more quickly illness is discovered, the more likely it is that the animal will recover. When a dog or cat has heartworms, there are very few, if any, early symptoms of disease, so it’s crucial to check for them with a heartworm test performed by a veterinarian. The test only needs a tiny amount of blood from your pet, and it works by looking for heartworm proteins. While some vets send the samples to a diagnostic lab, others handle heartworm testing in-house. Results are acquired fast in both situations. Additional testing might be requested if your pet tests positively.

When should my dog be tested?

Dogs. Every dog should get an annual heartworm test, which is typically performed as part of a regular checkup for preventive treatment. The testing and timing recommendations are as follows:

  • Although puppies under 7 months old can begin heartworm prevention without a heartworm test (it takes at least 6 months for a dog to test positive after it has been infected), they should be tested 6 months after your initial visit, again 6 months later, and then annually after that to make sure they are heartworm-free.
  • Prior to beginning heartworm prevention, adult dogs over 7 months old who had not previously been on a preventive need to be tested. They must also be tested after six months, after a year, and then once a year after that.
  • Dogs should be tested right after, then once more six months later, and then once more annually after that if there has been a break in prevention (one or more late or missed doses).

Even when dogs are treated year-round for heartworms, annual testing is required to make sure the preventative regimen is effective. Although heartworm medicines are quite successful, dogs can still contract the disease. A single missed dose of a monthly medication—or giving it late—can render your dog defenseless. Your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm tablet or rub off a topical medicine even if you administer it as directed. Although they are very effective, heartworm preventives are not perfect. You won’t know your dog requires treatment if you don’t get your dog tested.

What happens if my dog tests positive for heartworms?

The good news is that the majority of heartworm-infected dogs can be successfully treated, which is something no one wants to learn about their dog. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of a sickness, the objective is to first stabilize him before killing all adult and young worms with the least amount of negative effects possible.

What to anticipate if your dog tests positive is as follows:

  • Verify the prognosis. An extra and different test should be used to confirm the diagnosis when a dog tests positive on an antigen test. Your veterinarian will want to make certain that therapy is required because the heartworm treatment regimen is both expensive and complicated.
  • Limit your exercise. It could be challenging to follow this rule, especially if your dog is used to being active. However, as soon as the diagnosis is established, your dog’s typical physical activities must be limited since physical activity speeds up the rate at which the heartworms destroy the heart and lungs. Your dog should be less active the more serious the symptoms are.
  • Cure your dog’s illness. It could be necessary to stabilize your dog’s condition with the appropriate therapy prior to starting the actual heartworm treatment. The procedure can take several months in severe heartworm disease cases or when a dog has another significant ailment.
  • administering care. After determining that your dog is healthy and prepared for heartworm treatment, your vet will suggest a treatment plan that includes a number of steps. The American Heartworm Society gives recommendations for creating this strategy. The success rate of treatment in dogs with no or minor heartworm disease symptoms, such as coughing or exercise intolerance, is high. Although there is a greater chance of complications, more severe disease can still be successfully treated. Dogs with many worms may have little or no symptoms early in the course of the disease, and the severity of heartworm disease does not usually correlate with the severity of symptoms.
  • Test (and guard against) success. Your veterinarian will do a heartworm test about 6 months following the end of the treatment to ensure that all heartworms have been eradicated. For the remainder of his life, you should give your dog heartworm prevention year-round to reduce the chance that he may get the disease once more.

How can dogs be protected against heartworm?

No. A commercially accessible vaccination against heartworm disease in dogs or cats is not yet available. Research scientists are considering this option, nevertheless. Currently, the only way to avoid heartworm disease is through using preventive drugs as directed by your veterinarian on a regular basis. These medicines can be taken orally once a month, topically once a month, or intravenously once or twice a year. Consult your veterinarian to find the best course of action for your pet. Numerous treatments also have the additional benefit of avoiding other parasites.

Can dogs with heartworm be treated?

Heartworm disease in dogs can be cured, but it’s a somewhat time-consuming, difficult, and expensive process.”

Dr. Muller claims that there are injections available to treat heartworm “but, they must be administered regularly, typically twice or three times. Of course, every dog is different, and it can also depend on how serious your pet’s specific condition is.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to remember that dogs with more heartworms may not show any more symptoms than dogs with fewer heartworms. However, the likelihood that they would respond favorably to heartworm therapy with little side effects increases with the severity of the symptoms.

The American Heartworm Society states that treating dogs for heartworms might take several months and uses the following techniques:

  • You will need to limit and curtail your dog’s activity. Heartworms are more likely to cause heart and lung damage in active dogs. Your pet should be kept in a box or confined to a single room, and walks should only be taken for bathroom breaks. Your veterinarian can recommend a sedative if you have a dog that is overly excitable in order to keep them relaxed and sleepy.
  • If your dog has severe heartworms or other critical medical conditions that could complicate treatment, therapy may be necessary to stabilize their condition before treatment.
  • To kill the worms, your veterinarian will probably inject your dog with melarsomine dihydrochloride (trade names Immiticide and Diroban). To eliminate tiny heartworm larvae from your dog’s bloodstream, certain methods call for topical imidacloprid and moxidectin.
  • Antibiotics or steroids may also be recommended by your veterinarian.
  • If the situation is dire, your dog’s doctor may need to have heartworms surgically removed from his or her body.
  • Following treatment, your veterinarian will continue testing for heartworm disease, frequently beginning around six months after treatment has finished.

How long does a dog with heartworms survive?

How long a dog can survive with heartworms is a complex subject with no universally applicable solution.

The length of the dog’s life will depend on the severity of the infection as well as the dog’s general health.

However, it is generally believed that most dogs with heartworm infection won’t live longer than two years without any kind of therapy.

Heartworms can be completely removed from your dog if identified early and treated according to a strict regimen.

However, if the infection has spread too far, the most that can be done is to treat the dog with a view to enhancing their quality of life and extending their life.

This is why it’s a good idea to get your dog checked out by a veterinarian if you suspect that he may have heartworms.

When it comes to treating any kind of health issue in dogs, early detection and treatment are always the best options.

Therefore, dog owners who reside in a region where heartworm infection poses a risk are urged to take action to keep their dog from contracting the disease in the first place.

Consult your veterinarian about the best heartworm prevention option for your dog as there are a number of options available.

Why do dogs contract heartworm while humans do not?

Only mosquitoes carry the ailment, therefore your dogs, cats, and other pets cannot give you heartworms.

The majority of heartworm microfilariae perish upon skin penetration. Heartworms can’t mature and will eventually disappear even if they do find a way into your circulation.

Human heartworms are typically not a severe issue unless they result in discomfort, pain, or other obvious symptoms.