One of the most common diseases that your dog can suffer from is definitely heartworm disease. The Dirofilaria immitis parasite, which causes this problem, is a roundworm known as the heartworm and depending on the number of worms present in the body, long they’ve been there and the dog’s general condition, the illness may be more or less difficult to treat.

The heartworm is endemic in areas with tropical and subtropical climates, but it is present in almost every part of the world to some extent. That’s why it’s important to for each dog owner to know more about this widespread illness.

How do dogs get heartworms?

You may be happy to learn that there’s only one way your dog can get the heartworm, but you most certainly won’t be happy to hear what it is. Namely, only a bite of an infected mosquito can give your dog the heartworm. Since there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected, you need to rely on prevention as the best possible treatment or be able to recognise the symptoms and react quickly.

Once a dog is bitten, it takes around seven months for the larvae to grow into heartworms. They can lodge in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels, where they start reproducing. It’s scary to learn that adult worms can grow up to 12 inches in length and live up to 7 years. An even more alarming fact is that your dog can host as many as 250 worms in its body.

Can people get heartworms?

Generally, the heartworm affects cats, dogs, ferrets and other mammals, but in some very rare cases, people can be infected if they are bitten by an infected mosquito too. The worm migrates to the lung and creates a round lesion, which resembles a tumor. So, it’s theoretically possible for a human being to be infected, but not by an infected dog.

What can be done in terms of prevention?

As always, prevention is the best method and luckily, there are some effective ways to keep your dog protected from the heartworm. You can choose pills, topicals, such as Advocate for dogs, or vaccines and they will provide excellent prevention and save you and your dog from having to undergo much more expensive treatments.

What are the symptoms?

One of the worst things about heartworm infection is that it takes a lot of time for the first symptoms to appear. As worms infect the heart and lungs, a cough is usually the first symptom, followed by a loss of energy for exercising. If the infection is more serious, you might even be able to detect abnormal lung sounds, fluid retention and your dog may pass out due to the loss of blood to the brain. If the infection is untreated, your dog is likely to die.

What is the treatment?

Infected dogs are treated with injections. Two or three shots are usually enough to kill the adult heartworms in the blood vessels of the heart. However, before the injections are given, your dog would have to go through a costly pre-treatment workup, which comprises X-rays, blood work and all the tests that should show how serious the infection is. The cost of all this may sometimes amount to as much as $1,000.

Should prevention only cover warmer months?

The answer to this question is no. The best way to go is to provide year-round prevention, since you may easily forget to start giving preventatives before it’s too late. Another reason is that such preventatives also protect from other types of parasites.

The better the prevention, the lower the risk of your god getting infected with the heartworm, but even if it falls ill, there are still reasonable chances of making a full recovery. However, you have to be aware that once cured, you dog may easily get infected again if you don’t provide the right protection.