The Healthy Pet
By Annette M. Dixon, DVM
Heartworm disease is one of the easiest diseases to prevent. However veterinarians throughout the area and the United States diagnose it regularly in dogs and cats. Heartworms, or Dirofilaria immitis, are long, thread-like parasitic worms that live in the heart and pulmonary arteries of its host.
Dogs are the primary host for heartworms. However cats, ferrets, and even humans can be susceptible to infection. A mosquito is infected with microfilariae (baby heartworms) when it feeds (bites) on a heartworm infected host (dog). When that mos¬quito bites the next dog, it passes the microfilariae on.
Once the microfilariae are living in the dog, it takes them up to six months to develop into adult heartworms. After the adult heartworms take up residence in the heart and pulmonary arteries, they interfere with the normal blood flow. Over time heartworms will cause congestive heart failure and even cardiovascular collapse. Clinic signs of heartworms include exercise intolerance, persistent cough, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss and an enlarged, swollen abdomen. However many times heartworm disease is diagnosed in dogs with no symptoms.
A simple five minute blood test can be run at your veterinary office to diagnose heartworms. If negative, the pet can be started on heartworm prevention. This is a chewable tablet that is given once a month year round. It is far cheaper to prevent heartworms than to treat heartworm disease.
If you have any questions concerning heartworm disease or any thing else about your pet, please call Clarksville Veterinary Clinc at 573-242-3444.