The Heartbreak of Heartworm Disease
Mosquitos are arguably one of the most reviled insects on Earth. Besides causing their annoying buzzing and painful, itchy bites, mosquitoes are responsible for spreading some of the most damaging and deadly vector-borne diseases to both people and animals.
Heartworm disease is one of the worst illnesses our pets can contract from mosquitoes, and regular screening, along with year-round prevention, is the best way to protect them.
Understanding Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. A mosquito picks up the parasite in its microscopic stage by feeding on an infected animal, such as a dog, coyote, raccoon, or opossum, and can pass it along to a different animal during a subsequent feeding.
Once an animal has been infected, the microfilaria (immature form of heartworm) enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. Over the next several months to a year, the worms will grow in length and invade the heart, lungs, and accompanying blood vessels, where significant damage, and often death if not treated, will occur.
On the Lookout
The signs of heartworm disease in pets can be subtle and will worsen over time. A pet infected with heartworm may experience coughing, wheezing, loss of appetite, and weight gain. Heartworms can live for 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats, and pets who survive are often left with permanent damage to the heart and lungs.
The True Cost of Prevention
When the costs of prevention versus treatment of heartworm disease are broken down, the choice is clear. For a few hundred dollars per year, your pet can be tested for heartworm and supplied with 12 months of preventive medication (many brands also include ingredients that prevent common intestinal parasites, such as hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm).
The cost of treating heartworm in dogs can run into the thousands, and the treatment is painful, risky, and involves long periods of confinement and exercise restriction. Heartworm disease is not treatable in cats, and usually results in death.
Although the mosquito population dies down during the winter months, your pet’s protection against heartworm should not take the season off. Consistency is key when it comes to preventing this deadly disease, and skipping even one or two months of your pet’s heartworm prevention can result in the parasite taking hold.