April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Living in the Mississippi Delta, we have one of the highest concentrations of heartworms. Why you ask? It’s because heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. That’s right, the little pterodactyl-like bugs that annoy the heck out of us, are what causes our dogs (and even cats and ferrets) to acquire heartworm infections.
Reservoir hosts of heartworms are typically coyotes and stray dogs, though many animals can become infected. Our pets acquire heartworms when a mosquito bites one of these reservoir hosts or another dog who is already infected. The mosquito inadvertently picks up baby heartworms from the blood stream. The baby heartworms undergo changes inside of the mosquito, and when it bites another animal the baby heartworms enter the bite wound. From there, they migrate until they make it to the heart where they mature into adults. This entire process, from entering the body to maturing in the heart, takes about 6 months.
Once mature, the heartworms can reproduce, releasing more baby heartworms in the bloodstream. These will be picked up by another mosquito, leading to a heartworm infection in a future animal. Once in the heart, the heartworms cause pathologic changes in the heart and lungs. This is when they usually start causing problems in our dogs. Untreated, many pets eventually become sick enough where they succumb to their illness.
Fortunately, heartworm disease is very preventable. There are several available products on the market that kill the baby heartworms, long before they can mature and make our pets sick. There are also products that repel mosquitoes.
More questions about heartworms and how they make our pets sick? Call us or check out the link below from the American Heartworm Society: