Sorting through the facts can be difficult in many medical diagnoses. We have done the research for you and sorted the old wives’ tales from the truth. Here are the answers to all your heartworm questions:
Q: How do dogs get heartworms?
A: The only way for dogs to contract heartworms is if they are bitten by an infected mosquito. Heartworm prevention is crucial because it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to infect your pet. Once bitten, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to develop into heartworms. The heartworms then take residence in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Once they reach maturity they will start to reproduce sending microfilaria into the blood stream. This causes the spread of disease if a mosquito takes a meal from an infected animal. Mature worms can live from 5-7 years in the host and be up to 12 inches in length.
Q: Is it possible for people to contract heartworms?
A: The dog is the natural host for heartworms, but it can affect cats, ferrets, and other wild mammals ( including sea lions!) In very rare cases the heartworm can infect people. While it is not able to complete its life cycle and reproduce, it can cause a lesion on the lungs.
Q: Can heartworms be transmitted from dog to dog?
A: Heartworms cannot be transmitted by contact with other dogs. The only way to spread is through mosquitos that carry the disease. In areas with a high population of affected dogs, disease can spread more readily, however.
Q: How can heartworms be prevented?
A: It is much cheaper to prevent heartworms that it is to cure them. Heartworms can be prevented through monthly pills or topical solutions, or an injection lasting 6 months!
Q: Is it safe to adopt a dog with heartworms?
A: It is perfectly safe to adopt a dog with the disease, but you must be diligent and dedicated to caring for the infection. If left untreated, heartworms can result in death for many dogs.
Q: What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
A: There are no symptoms of the infection when the dog is initially infected. As the worms develop and begin crowding the heart and lungs most will develop a cough and become more easily winded. They also have decreased appetite and associated weight loss. If left untreated it progresses to heart failure and potentially death.
Q: How are heartworms treated?
A: Heartworms are treated with an arsenic-based injectable medication. Multiple injections over the course of a few months will be needed to kill the adult worms. In addition to the injections, x-rays, blood work, and other tests will be needed to determine the extent of infection. This process is costly and discomforting to your pet.
Q: Is preventative medicine necessary during colder months?
A: Year round heartworm prevention is necessary to keep your dog fully protected. Skipping months cause the medicine to not be fully effective, thus not providing adequate protection. As a bonus, many heartworm preventions also have protections against some common intestinal parasites as well!