Preventing heartworm in our pets
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Spring is the time of year that parasites start appearing in abundance.
One parasite, heartworms, can cause a bad disease in pets. Heartworm can infect any dog regardless of age, sex or habitat. There have been reported cases in cats as well.
It is spread by mosquitoes and is found in almost all parts of the United States. It is more prevalent along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and Ohio and Mississippi river basins,, but there are more pockets of infection in otherwise low prevalence regions. There have been cases reported in the Denver region.
The adult heartworm lives a dog’s heart and adjacent vessels. It can grow to four or 12 inches long. It matures in a about a year and lives for five to seven years. They produce offspring, known as microfilariae, which circulate in the animal’s blood.
When a female mosquito bites an infected animal, it sucks out some blood containing the microfilariae. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infected larvae are transmitted and the cycle begins again.
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Outdoor dogs are more likely to be infected than indoor dogs. Dogs between 3 and 8 years old are more at risk and large dogs are more susceptible.
Once a dog has been infected with the larva from an infected mosquito, it migrates through body tissues for the next 100 days. At that time, young adult heartworms enter the blood system and travel to the pulmonary arteries in the lung.
Once the adult heartworms have made their way to the pulmonary arteries, damage to the lining of the vessels begins. The heart, lungs, and kidneys are affected.
Symptoms include coughing, fatigue, listlessness, weight loss, rough hair and loss of interest in exercise because of lung damage. Dogs with heartworm may even collapse.
Diagnosis is made from a simple blood test but there are ways to avoid the disease. There many preventatives on the market such as Heartguard, Interceptor and Revolution.
If your dog tests positive for the microfilariae or the adult worm, treatment varies according to what the dog is infected with. Most patients are hospitalized during treatment to kill the adult worm. The medication used is strong and the effect of killing off the worms can potentially cause problems in the lungs. The circulating microfilaria are usually killed four to six weeks after getting rid of the adults.
Heartworm can be a severe disease once the larvae become adults in the heart. There have only been a few cases in the Vail Valley, most in dogs who have traveled from other places.
Dr. Nadine Lober can be reached at 949-7972