Heart-worm is a parasitic disease that can affect any dog regardless of age, sex or habitat. It is found in virtually in the southern parts of Canada all of the United States. Heart-worm is spread by mosquitoes, and tends to have a higher incidence in areas heavily populated by mosquitoes. Dogs are considered the most common host for heart-worms, however heart-worms may also infect more than thirty animals species (including coyotes, foxes, wolves, domestic cats, ferrets) and even humans.
What are heart-worms?
Heart worms are parasites that live in the blood of a dog’s heart and adjacent blood vessels. They can grow from four to twelve inches in length, reach maturation 6 to 7 months after infection and live for approximately five to seven years. Adult heart-worms living in the heart produce offspring, known as microfilariae, which circulate in the animal’s blood. When a female mosquito bites an infected animal, it sucks out the blood containing the microfilariae. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infectious larvae are transmitted. In many cases the infected dog will not show symptoms in the early stages.
Heart-worm is the most serious common parasite in dogs because it stresses the dog’s heart by restricting blood flow and also damages other internal organs. The heart may enlarge and become weakened due to an increased workload, and congestive heart failure may occur. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal to dogs.
Blood screening tests can verify the presence of heart-worms. Ultrasound and x-rays are used to detect the disease in its later stages. Prompt detection prevents needless suffering.