There are many parasites that can infect our pets and when it comes to worms it can be a little confusing. Most owners know that they have to worm their pet regularly but different worm groups require different treatment regimes.
Heartworms parasites can live inside the arteries of your pet’s heart and lungs and whilst primarily effecting dogs, they can also effect cats as well. Once positioned they feed on the blood of your pet and can increase in both size and population overtime with severe infestations resulting in numbers reaching over 2000 and individual parasite reaching up to 30cm in length! Heartworm is capable of breeding inside your pet with the offspring known as Microfilarie and showing up when a blood test is carried out.
How does your pet get infected with heartworm?
The only way that heartworm is spread between hosts is via mosquito's, so pets living in areas with higher mosquito populations are at greater risk of infection. It is spread when the mosquito bites an infected pet, has a blood meal and during this, ingests some of and feeds on the blood of the Microfilariae. When the mosquito moves to the next pet, some of these are realised into the blood of the pet and the cycle then continues. Once in the blood stream, the Microfilarie move into the arteries of the heart and lungs and mature into adult heartworm. The life cycle of the heartworm is approximately 5-6 months.
How does Heartworm effect your pet?
Despite being called heartworm, it primarily affects the lungs of your pet Signs your pet may have been infected include:
- A persistent cough
- Tiring quickly when exercising
- Gradual loss of weight
- General weakness and listlessness
The only way to be completely sure whether your pet has heartworm is to have your vet carry out a blood test which looks for signs of Microfilarie in the test.
Heartworm does not discriminate when effecting companion animals. It is found in dogs, cats and in some cases ferrets, however it is most commonly a disease of dogs.
How can you prevent heartworm?
The good news is that controlling heartworm is not difficult and many of the modern products are given orally to the pet on a monthly basis. There are some products include nexgaurd spectra that will not only treat heart worm, but also fleas, ticks and some of the intestinal worms as well so look for these all in one products. It is best to start your pet on heart worm by three months of age, after this time we would recommend a blood test by the vet as treatment with certain products may have side effects if the dog already has an infection. Puppies should begin heartworm prevention by at least 3 months of age. After this age your veterinarian will need to perform a blood test to see if your pet is heartworm free. Some nasty side effects can occur if a dog is already infected with heartworm disease when prevention is given.
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