What is Heartworm Disease and How to Prevent It

What is Heartworm Disease and How to Prevent It

by Petfolk Care Team

Most commonly found on the East coast of the United States, heartworm disease is a serious illness that causes organ damage and failure in mainly dogs, cats, and ferrets. Since heartworms are spread through the bite of a mosquito, our pets are extremely susceptible due to our temperate climate. Learning what heartworms are and how they spread is the first step in prevention.

Heartworm Transmission

Although heartworms are transmitted through mosquito bites, the maturation and reproduction of the parasite take place in the definitive host, most commonly our canine and feline friends. Mosquitoes serve as the intermediate host, where the worms only stay in the mosquito long enough to become infective. 

Why is Heartworm So Dangerous for Pets?

These parasites are so dangerous because while they are reproducing and maturing in our pets, they are living in their hearts, blood vessels, and even lungs. The heartworm life cycle follows these 6 steps:Adult female heartworms reproduce

  1. Their offspring (microfilariae) are released into the pet’s bloodstream 
  2. A mosquito bites an infected animal, the mosquito is then infected
  3. Microfilariae turn into infective larvae while in the mosquito
  4. The infected mosquito bites new pet, spreads infective larvae
  5. Infective larvae mature into adult

Once infected, the larvae stay in the dog’s tissue for 2 months (2½ for cats). The worms then mature into adults for the next 4-6 months in the bloodstream. Adult heartworms can live and reproduce in the bloodstream for 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats. However, this can all be avoided with proper care.

Is Heartworm Contagious?

While heartworm disease is daunting, it is not contagious. Your pet can only become infested with heartworms through an infected mosquito bite, not through contact with a heartworm-positive pet. You should always keep your cats and dogs on heartworm preventative. If a pet is on a heartworm preventative regularly or during the first two months of the infection process, prevention is effective. If your pet is not on a preventative after the worms have reached the bloodstream, your pet will most likely require heartworm treatment.

Heartworm Prevention

Here at Petfolk, we recommend your pet stay on heartworm prevention year-round. Pairing prevention with intermittent testing is the absolute best way to avoid dealing with heartworms. Heartworm antigen testing is available once your pet reaches 6-months old and our popular heartworm preventatives can be given as early as 8-weeks of age. Heartworm disease is a serious and life-threatening illness that can affect both cats and dogs. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for any advice to keep your pet up to date on their preventatives and safe from heartworms.

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