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April Is National Heartworm Awareness Month

Did you know that more than one million pets in the United States are affected by heartworms? Heartworm disease is a severe condition. It can cause heart failure, lung disease, organ damage, and death. Ferrets, cats, and dogs are the pets that mostly catch the disease, although it also affects wildlife such as wolves, coyotes, or foxes to some degree.


What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworms are parasitic worms that can be as thin as the diameter of spaghetti. They live in the heart of a pet and the blood vessels near the heart. This worm is called Dirofilaria immitis. When it is in the heart chambers or blood vessels, it causes minimized heart functionality. It also causes minimized lung capacity and usually leads to death.

Heartworm disease is not contagious. This means that your dog cannot receive the disease if it plays with an infected dog. A mosquito bite is the only cause of heartworm disease. The mosquito is the immediate host.


What Is the Heartworm Life Cycle?

When inside a dog, heartworms can live for up to seven years. The count of worms living in an infected pet is called worm burden. When a pet has heartworms, the adult female worm produces microfilariae or tiny worms in the blood. When a mosquito bites this infected pet, it absorbs some of the microfilariae.

When the mosquito gets to the next pet, the worms attach to the skin of the pet and enter through the mosquito bite. The tiny worms develop into larvae and infect the other pet. When in the new pet, the larvae take six months to mature.


What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm?

Here are the signs that your pet has a heartworm infection:

  • Chronic cough

  • Your pet has a reduced appetite

  • Abdominal distension or lethargy

  • Your pet has a higher respiration rate

  • Intolerance for exercise


How Do You Test for Heartworms?

When a pet owner detects heartworm infection early, chances for saving the pet are high. There are a few early signs of heartworm disease. You can catch the presence of heartworms with a test administered by a veterinarian at R Veterinary Group.

The veterinarian will take a blood sample from your pet. Next, they will analyze the sample for the presence of heartworm proteins. When your pet tests positive, the vet will conduct other tests. The vet will then give you medication to administer to your pet.


The Effects of Heartworm Disease and Its Treatment

When heartworm larvae become adults, they can cause various issues in your pet's body. They can hinder cardiac functions. Over a more extended period, they can cause long-term and fatal heart disease. It is advisable to notice the symptoms early and take your pet to the vet. Early treatment of heartworm means a good prognosis.

For treatment, the vet will give three intramuscular injections. The injections are of Immiticide®. It is an adulticide product. The injections are followed by four to six weeks of rest. The heartworms die slowly and the pet returns to its normal healthy self.

For more on heartworms, visit R Veterinary Group at our offices in Linn Creek, Columbia, or Waynesville, Missouri. You can also call (573) 245-1027, (573) 346-5733, (573) 443-7274, or (573) 774-3337 to book an appointment today.

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