Heartworms are a very serious problem and can be fatal to your dog. Heartworms are found in the heart and large blood vessels of infected dogs. Female heartworms are quit large ranging from 6 to 14 inches in length and the male is only about half that size. In serious infestations a dog can be infected by over 300 heartworms.
In infected dogs heartworms live in the heart and arteries and it is very rare to find them in other areas. Heartworms can survive as long as 5 years. Females will produce million of young microfilaria that will live in the bloodstream. These microfilarias live in the bloodstream and mainly in the small blood vessels. The immature heartworms need the mosquito to complete their life cycle. The micro flora cannot grow to be adults in the dog. The microfilaria can still cause problems for the dog.
Heartworms are transmitted by over 3o kinds of mosquitoes. The female mosquito bites the infected dog and ingests the microfilaria during this time. The microfilaria develops from to 30 days in the mosquito and then enters the mosquito’s mouth. The mosquitoes will now bite the dog and heartworms will develop.
When fully developed the infective larva enter the bloodstream and move to the heart and blood vessels. Here they will grow to maturity in 2 to 3 months and start reproducing completing the full life cycle.
Canine heartworm was once limited to the south and south east regions. The disease is now found wherever you have mosquitoes.
The disease can spread from dog to dog as it needs the mosquitoe. If there are no mosquitoes there will be no heartworms. The heartworm needs the mosquitoes to complete its life cycle. The spread of the disease coincides with the mosquito season.
It takes years before a dog shows signs of heart worm disease. Usually a dog will not show signs of heartworms until they are from to 8 years old.
The adult worms cause problems by clogging the heart and major blood vessels leading from the heart. They prevent the heart valve from working properly. They also cause problems by clogging the main blood vessels the blood supply to other organs of the body is reduced, especially the lungs, liver and kidneys. This will lead to a malfunction of these organs.
Heartworms are usually not found until the disease is very advanced in the dog. The signs of heartworm disease depend on the number of adult worms present, the location of the worms, the length of time the worms have been present and the amount of damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys from the adult worms and the microfilaria.
Some signs are a soft, dry, chronic cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina. These signs are usually noticed following exercise. Sometimes a dog will faint.
Listening to the dog’s chest with a stethoscope will often reveal abnormal lung and heart sounds. In advanced cases, congestive heart failure may be happen and the abdomen and legs will swell from fluid accumulation. There may also be weight loss, poor coat condition and anemia. If your dog shows any symptoms take him to the veterinarian to be checked out.