The bad news is that heartworms can kill your dog, cat or ferret. The good news is that heartworms can be prevented with help from your veterinarian. Learn the facts about heartworms and how to prevent them from The Village Vet in Baltimore, MD.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Also called dirofilariasis, heartworm disease is a condition caused by adult heartworms living in and around a pet’s inner organs, particularly the heart and blood vessels near the heart. Worms grow slowly. By the time a pet starts exhibiting the first symptom of heartworm disease, coughing, heartworms are already large enough to start doing damage.
How Do Heartworms Kill Pets?
Heartworms kill pets by blocking the heart and blood vessels. An adult female heartworm can grow to be 14 inches long and 1/8th of an inch wide. Males are about half as large. It just takes a few heartworms to kill a ferret, while a dog may have up to 300. Even after treatment for adult heartworms, pets can still die because of the damage done to the heart by the worms.
First Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
The first symptom of heartworm disease is a low, persistent cough. This might come on so gradually that you may not be aware of it. In ferrets, the first symptoms include coughing, panting, being more tired than usual and discolored gums.
How Do Pets Get Heartworms?
Juvenile heartworms, called microfilaria, are transported from an infested animals by mosquitoes to your pet. A mosquito drinks the blood of an infested pet. Inside the blood are microfilariae. They grow inside the mosquito for up to 30 days, then move the mosquito’s mouthparts. When the mosquito bites your pet, the microfilariae are released into your pet’s bloodstream.
Heartworm Prevention Should Be Year-Round
Heartworm prevention medication can be purchased from your veterinarian. It’s usually given once a month. Most heartworm prevention medication also prevents other kinds of worms. Do not stop giving heartworm prevention medication in the colder months when there are no mosquitoes. Microfilariae can live for weeks after mosquito season ends.
The Importance of Blood Testing
Heartworm prevention medication only kills microfilariae. It does not kill adult worms. Other kinds of medication are needed for that. The presence of heartworms can be easily checked through annual blood tests, which should be part of your pet’s wellness exam. Blood tests can also check for other health problems, like leukemia and problems of the inner organs.
Still Have Questions?
If you have further questions about how to prevent heartworms in your pets and live in the Baltimore, MD, area, contact The Village Vet by calling (410) 367-8111 to make an appointment today.