What is heartworm?

Heartworm disease is a serious and often fatal disease in pets: It is caused by heartworms, which live in the heart, lungs and large blood vessels of the affected pets. Infected animals can develop serious lung and heart disease, as well as permanent damage to other organs.

How is heartworm spread?

The parasite Dirofilaria immitis is spread by mosquitoes through their bites. Their life cycle begins when a mosquito bites an infected dog, and during the bite, the heartworm larvae circulating in the dog’s blood enter the mosquito’s body along with the extracted blood. The larvae continue to develop in the mosquito’s body and take approx. After 15-30 days, they become infectious larvae that, when they get back into a dog’s body during another bite, cause disease. After 7-8 months of development, the adult worms develop and live in the cavities of the heart and in the large blood vessels branching from the heart. The adult worms would reproduce and their offspring, the so-called microfilariae enter the bloodstream, from where the mosquitoes can pick them up again during the bite. And the process starts all over again…

There can be hundreds of adults in one dog, and adult heartworms can live for up to three to five years. During this period, the females create millions of offspring, microfilariae.

What are the symptoms of heartworm?

In the initial stages of the disease, there are uncharacteristic symptoms. Recurring coughing, slight weight loss, and fatigue may raise our suspicions. In the later stages of the disease, the symptoms worsen. Persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, and possibly fluid accumulation in the chest or abdominal cavity develop. It is important to know that these symptoms can be characteristic of many heart diseases, not just heartworms.

How can the disease be diagnosed?

Larvae circulating in the blood (microfilariae) can be detected with a microscope, and several serological methods are known for detection from blood. If the dog shows symptoms of heart disease, a chest X-ray and an ultrasound examination of the heart are essential.
Can heartworm be cured?

Heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease. The earlier it is diagnosed, the greater the chance that the animal will recover. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the mild symptoms that appear in the initial stages of the disease. Several methods are known and used to treat the disease. By administering various drugs in combination, a complete recovery can be achieved during several months of treatment. It may also be necessary to remove adult worms surgically.

What can be done to prevent it?

As with most diseases, the golden rule is true here, according to which it is easier (and cheaper) to prevent trouble than to cure it.

Fortunately, there are preparations, either in the form of tablets or drops, which are suitable for preventing the development of larvae that have entered the body. It is also worth reducing the number of mosquitoes near the animal, there are also suitable preparations for this purpose.

And the most important thing: It’s worth having every dog screened once a year to make sure that your pet is parasite-free – regardless of whether or not it receives a preventive product.

In May, at the Szent Bernát Pet Ambulance in Pestimre, we are holding a FREE screening test for all dogs!

During the examination, we take a few drops of blood from the dog. It is worth timing the examination for the afternoon hours, as this is when the greatest number of larvae are found in the animal’s blood, and the accuracy of the examination is very high at that time.