Heartworms can inhabit dogs, cats, and ferrets, but dogs are the natural hosts for heartworms. Heartworms that live inside of the dog will mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. Because the entire life cycle is able to take place within the dog, their numbers can increase if the condition is not treated. Heartworms cause damage while they're living inside of the host animal and this damage can long affect the animal even after treatment.
Where do Heartworms Come From?
Heartworms are carried from host to host by mosquitos. When a mosquito feeds on an animal infected with heartworms, microscopic baby worms are transferred through the blood into the mosquito. These babies live in the mosquito for ten to fourteen days while they mature into the "infective stage" of larvae. When a mosquito bites the next animal that it feeds on, it transfers the infective larvae through its bite wound. Once this new host is infected, it takes about 6 months for these infective larvae are able to mature into adulthood. Once they reach this stage in the life cycle, they can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs or 2-3 years in cats.
What are the Signs of Heartworms in Dogs?
Typically, symptoms in the early stages of heartworm disease are few to none at all. As time goes on and the worms are able to grow and reproduce, more symptoms will begin to develop. Here's what to look for:
What are the Signs of Heartworms in Cats?
Cats may occasionally experience difficulty walking, fainting, seizures, or liquid accumulation in the abdomen.
Is my Pet in Danger from Heartworms in Alabama?
The simple answer to this question is YES! Alabama is able to host high populations of mosquitoes thanks to our warm climate. Wild animals, such as coyotes and foxes, can also carry the disease. With our high populations of mosquitos and wild animals, there is no doubt that this disease is easily able to spread to your pets across the state.
How are Heartworms Treated?
Heartworm treatment is difficult on your pet and draining to your bank account, but heartworms are not a death sentence. The first step when you visit your veterinarian is always to get a heartworm test done on your pet. It is an extremely simple test that only requires a few drops of blood and 5 to 10 minutes for the test to be processed. Once this test is completed, your veterinarian will help you to either put your pet on a monthly preventative medication or, if need be, treat your pet for heartworms. If your pet has tested positive for heartworms, an immediate restriction of exercise is required. As these worms reside in your pet's heart, exercise can increase the rate at which damage can be caused to the heart and the lungs. Then your veterinarian will start the actual treatment. Treatment typically involves three rounds of vaccinations, one each month. This vaccine will also be accompanied by blood work and x-rays to monitor your pet's progress. The more severe the pet's heartworm disease is, the more dangerous and draining treatment will be. Finally, once all of the heartworms have been killed, your vet will put your pet on heartworm prevention in order to keep them healthy in the future.
In conclusion, heartworm disease is a danger that should be avoided at all costs. In order to keep your pet safe year round, ask your vet about a monthly heartworm preventative. This medication could be the difference between life and death for your pet.
Options for Heartworm Prevention
At Saugahatchee Animal Hospital, we have multiple recommendations for heartworm prevention for your pet. Here are a few of the products that we carry.
If you have any questions or concerns about heartworm prevention, heartworm testing, heartworm treatment, or heartworms in general, please do not hesitate to contact us!