TAMPA, FL. (HSTB) – Heartworm is a serious disease that can result in heart failure, organ damage, and death in pets. It’s a serious concern for Florida pet owners during the summer months because Heartworm is spread through mosquitoes.
According to the FDA, the animal is the definitive host. This means the worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside a dog. The mosquito is the intermediate host, meaning that the worms live inside a mosquito for a short transition period in order to become ineffective. The worms are called “heartworms” because the adults live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal.
The Heartworm Lifecycle in Dogs:
Inside a dog, a heartworm’s lifespan is 5 to 7 years. Adult heartworms look like strands of cooked spaghetti, with males reaching about 4 to 6 inches in length and females reaching about 10 to 12 inches in length. The number of worms living inside an infected dog is called the worm burden.
How is a Dog Tested for Heartworms?
A veterinarian uses blood tests to check a dog for heartworms. An antigen test detects specific heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released by adult female heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream. In most cases, antigen tests can accurately detect infections with one or more adult female heartworms. The earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected in a dog’s bloodstream is about 5 months after it is bitten by an infected mosquito. The earliest that microfilaria can be detected in a dog’s bloodstream is about 6 months after it is bitten by an infected mosquito.
When Should a Dog Be Tested for Heartworms?
Dogs 5-6 months of age and older should be tested for heartworms before starting heartworm prevention. A dog may appear healthy on the outside, but on the inside, heartworms may be living and thriving. If a heartworm-positive dog is not tested before starting a preventive, the dog will remain infected with adult heartworms until it gets sick enough to show symptoms.
Is There a Treatment for Heartworm Disease in Dogs?
Melarsomine dihydrochloride (available under the trade names Immiticide and Diroban) is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in dogs. It’s given by deep injection into the back muscles to treat dogs with stabilized class 1, 2, and 3 heartworm disease. The treatment for heartworm disease is not easy on the dog or on the owner’s pocket book. Treatment can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and can cause serious complications, such as life-threatening blood clots to the dog’s lungs. Treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.
The Best Treatment is Prevention!