Most of us are familiar with the dreaded heartworm. After all, we all spend hundreds on its treatment and prevention every year! While the parasitic heartworm thrives in hot, humid environments and is mostly associated with its plague against Southern United States, Canada sees hundreds of cases per year, the majority of which are within Ontario.
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis and is passed by its host of choice: the mosquito. Mosquitos will ingest the microscopic heartworm larva while feeding on an infected animal, and then subsequently pass the parasite to an uninfected animal through its saliva the next time it feeds. These microscopic larvae then travel through the bloodstream and take refuge around the right atrium of the heart and the surrounding arteries. This is where it will set-up camp and make itself comfortable, maturing and developing into its adult form.
Unfortunately, our canine companions (and their wild cousins: foxes, coyotes and wolves) are all susceptible to heartworm. This increases the overall population of heartworm and increases the likelihood of your dog being bit by a host mosquito. While dogs are much more susceptible to heartworm disease, cats (including indoor cats) can also become infected. Click here to speak with a vet near you about feline heartworm prevention.
Newer and smaller infections will often present themselves as asymptomatic, meaning there are no physical signs or symptoms to look out for. As for older and larger infections, animals will exhibit a lack of energy, intolerance to exercise, weight loss, and a decrease of heart and lung capacity - which can have fatal consequences. Heartworm medication can be extremely painful and long-lasting for the pet, as well as very costly for the pet owner. Prevention is the most effective way to avoid a heartworm infection taking place or developing into an irreversible state. Whether your pet spends most of their time indoors or not, prevention is highly recommended. Oral and topical treatments are available through your local veterinarian. Some may be given monthly, and others are only required a few times a year.
Furthermore, limiting your pets time outdoors during peak mosquito season (May-September), and keeping your yard maintained can effectively decrease the risk of heartworm disease. Removing standing water, keeping your gutters clean and removing outdoor pet dishes are a few of the ways you can limit breeding opportunities for mosquitos near you. If you would like to learn more about heartworm disease or which preventative is best for your pet, speak to a veterinarian today and join the fight against heartworm!