What is it?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes. It has an incubation period of 6 to 9 months. It is epidemic in our area. The adult heartworm looks like spaghetti and lives in the right ventricle of the heart and the pulmonary arteries.
Who is susceptible to it?
Dogs, cats and other species of mammals, including wolves, foxes, ferrets, sea lions and (in rare instances) humans
How does it spread?
By bites from infected mosquitoes.
Time line from exposure to signs?
Very gradually over a period of months and sometimes years.
What are the symptoms?
Recently infected dogs may exhibit no signs of the disease. Heavily infected dogs may eventually show a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite and weight loss. The worms cause inflammation of the blood vessels and can block blood flow leading to pulmonary thrombosis (clots in the lungs) and heart failure. Heartworm disease can also lead to liver or kidney failure causing death.
Is there a test for it?
Heartworm infection is usually detected with a blood test to identify the adult worms. This blood test can be run in the hospital and results are usually available in 10 minutes. Baby larvae (Microfilaria) are identified through a different blood test that can be run at the hospital or sent out to the laboratory.
How is it treated?
Treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is possible; it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover. Adult heartworms in dogs are killed using a drug that is injected into the muscle through a series of treatments. Treatment usually requires hospitalization for 2 – 5 days. When the dog is sent home, exercise should be limited to leash walking for the duration of the recovery period, which can last from one to two months. Re-infection during treatment is prevented by administration of a heartworm preventive.
Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in dogs, including monthly tablets/chewables, monthly topicals and a six-month injectable product available only for dogs (we do not offer the injectable). All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented. These medications interrupt heartworm development before adult worms reach the lungs or the heart and cause disease.
Is there a vaccine? No.
Risk for humans?
Only in very rare instances.