The Heartworm Life Cycle
Heartworms LOVE dogs as they are their favorite host to infest! (Cats can get heartworms as well, but they are the “aberrant host” for them, so it is not as common in cats.) To start, adult female heartworms release their young (microfilariae) into the bloodstream of the infected animal. Then, when a mosquito bites the pet, the mosquito becomes infected. The baby heartworms mature in the mosquito over a 10-14 day period, becoming larvae. (This is a crucial step as the baby heartworms cannot mature into adults without passing through a mosquito!). Once the larvae have developed, when the mosquito bites another animal, the larvae enters the pet. Over the next 6 months, these larvae develop into adult heartworms.
What are the signs of Heartworm Disease?
Most Animals initially show no clinical signs, as the number of heartworms grows slowly over a period of time. As the burden of worms grow, infected dogs may develop a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss.
How do you Detect Heartworm Disease?
The infection is usually detected with a simple blood test that looks for an “antigen” produced by the heartworms in the bloodstream. The test is performed within the veterinary hospital and only requires a few drops of blood.
Treatment for heartworm disease is quite painful. The adult heartworms are killed in dogs using an adulticiide that is infected into the muscle through a series of treatments. Exercise is limited to minimal leash walking during the recovery period of a few months. This restriction decreases the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by the dead worms. After reading (or “skimming”!) all of this, one must wonder “What can I do to protect my pet?”. You can easily protect your dog with a simple, monthly heartworm preventative. There are several on the market. Some also eliminate fleas and intestinal parasites, too. Our practice carries, what I believe to be, the best combination medication on the market: Trifexis. Trifexis is basically the drug Comfortis (flea medication) plus the drug Interceptor (heartworm and intestinal parasite protector). Trifexis protects against Heartworms, Fleas, Hookworms, Roundworms, and Whipworms. I trust it so much that I give it to my very own Magnolia Mae every month! If you have any questions, or would like to stop in for a heartworm test to get your dog started on Trifexis, feel free to stop by anytime and we would be happy to help!