Heartworms are a parasitic worm that live in your dog heart and nearby blood vessels. These worms are carried from pet to pet by mosquitoes and pose a very serious risk to the health of your pet.
Adult female worms have been known to grow up to 14 inches in length. Some dogs can be infected with multiple worms. This mass of tangled and twisted heartworms can serve as a significant mechanical blockage to the normal flow of blood and can be tremendously damaging to pet health. The blood vessels in and around the heart are literally blocked by worms.
Heartworm can be diagnosed with blood tests, and/or X-rays, along with other tests but can be difficult to detect until they have reached sexual maturity which unfortunately might be a full 6 months after your dog has been infected.
Most veterinarians now recommend that all dogs and cats take preventative heartworm medication. Prior to taking this pet medication your dog should be first tested for heartworm to avoid serious reactions. Pre-testing is not necessary if your dog is younger than 7 months.
Puppies should generally be started on heartworm prevention medication by the age of two months and then should be blood tested for heartworm at 7 months of age. All dogs should be tested for heartworm on a regular basis. If your dog has regularly taken monthly heartworm medication then testing need only be done every 2-3 years. If your dog has missed any doses of heartworm medication or is not given this medication year round then she should be tested for heartworm every year.
It is important to understand the life cycle of the heartworm. The heartworm advances through four molting stages before maturing into an adult heartworm. The first two molting stages occur while the parasite still lives inside the mosquito. After the first two molting stages the heartworm larvae moves into the mosquito’s salivary glands. At this point the mosquito can infect your pet. The second two stages occur inside your infected pet. The worm takes roughly 6 months to go through the last two molts and make it’s way to your pet’s heart. The heart worm will stay in your dog’s heart for up to 7 years and grow rapidly in length and size and will reproduce.
The treatment of heartworm is still not easy. Sometimes invasive and very expensive surgery is required. Preventing heartworm disease in your dog is the key. The most common preventative heartworm medications are given to the pet every 30 days. This pet medication kills the immature heartworm larvae before they can molt into the final worm stage. If the medication is given regularly, it is very effective in preventing your dog from getting a heartworm infection and eventual developing heartworm disease.