Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated February 17, 2009)
You always hear about heartworms on daytime commercials and on pet posters, but what exactly is it? The more you know about heartworms, the more you can do to prevent and treat it with your own pets.
Heartworms are a certain parasite that is passed through mosquitoes. The mosquito serves as an intermediary stage for the heartworm and finds a permanent host for its adult life. Once the heartworm is deposited in its host through a mosquito bite, it goes through several stages of maturation and eventually make their way into the bloodstream and into the heart. After they lodge themselves in the heart, the worms grow rapidly in size, growing up to 30 cm in length. Ew. So, now you know how heartworms become heartworms, how do they affect your pet and how do you even know your pet is infected?
Symptoms of heartworm infection include faster aging in the dog or cat (because the heartworms damage the liver and kidneys if the heartworm babies spread), coughing (especially after exercise), fainting, coughing up blood, severe weight loss, and ultimately congestive heart failure. Early signs of heartworm infection aren't easily detected in pets and that is one of the reasons why it's so serious. Heartworm infection can easily be confirmed through blood tests done by a veterinarian and treatment usually consists of arsenic-based tablets that attack the worms and don't harm your pet. After treatment, you need to make sure your pet rests and abstains from any intense exercise so the dead worms can be sufficiently absorbed by the dog's body. In more advanced cases, surgery is recommended.
Heartworms are gross and I'm sure uncomfortable for the host. Talk to your veterinarian if you're worried and if you can diagnose soon, your pet will be good to go!
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