Heartworm in dogs

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Heartworm disease in dogs is the result of an infection of the parasitic worm – Dirofilaria immitis. Dogs contract this heartworm after a bite from infected mosquito.

To understand how to prevent this debilitating condition in your dog let’s take a look at the life cycle of the worm.  The life cycle of the worm begins when the mosquito that bites the dog injects a small bit of saliva and previous blood meal into the dogs skin. this injection by the mosquito contains anticoagulant compounds which reduce blood clotting in the area of the mosquito is feeding from, this injection from the mosquito may also contain microfilaria -larvae- from a previous blood meal.

The injected larvae grow in the dogs skin for up to 2 weeks before they migrate to the dogs heart. After about two months the small worms have completed their journey from the skin of the dog to its pulmonary artery where they take up residence, then over the next three months, they continue their growth into adult worms.  Adult female worms can grow up to 12 inches in Length.  They continue to grow and breed and increase in numbers.  The offspring that they produce are known as microfilaria, these then migrate into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.

Microfilaria can live up to two years in your dog’s blood stream waiting for the next mosquito to bite the dog and transfer them to the next host.  Adult heartworms can live 3 to 6 years in your dog’s body.

All dogs are at risk of catching heartworm disease, but dogs living in warmer climates are more prone to the disease where is dogs and cooler climates and less susceptible to mosquito bites.

How disease symptoms make themselves apparent is by coughing and wheezing, an intolerance to exercise, loss of appetite, though some dogs just show a general decline in conditioning. Heartworm disease initially causes damage to the tissues of the heart but over time the worms can make their way to the lungs, this stage of the infection causes the classic wheezing and the coughing up of blood. If the growth of these worms is left unchecked they will continue to migrate through the body making their way to the liver. At this point it takes a massive toll on the doge immune system, and death is certain if the disease remains untreated.

Treatment is available for infected dogs, it is expensive and it will kill the worm, the issue being though the dead worms will leave the organs and enter the bloodstream, where they then start to breakdown, this causes a massive toxic shock to the dog and death again is a very real possibility. Clearly prevention is better than cure.