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What Are Heartworms?

The heartworm got its name from the fact that this parasite actually inhabits the heart of your dog to which they can grow as long as eleven inches.  In some few cases of heartworm infestation, your dog may experience breathing difficulty, persistent coughing, weakness and fatigue.  However, when left untreated, your dog can develop heart failure in an extreme case of heartworm infestation

Mature heartworms create young heartworms called microfilaria.  These young heartworms circulate through your dog’s bloodstream during a mosquito bite.  When the mosquito bites your dog, it can ingest these tiny young heartworms that could later on infect another dog.  Once the mosquito carries the young heartworms to a new dog, the parasites go through about two more growing stages under the dog’s skin, after which they enter the bloodstream through nearby veins.

After reaching your dog’s heart, these tiny heartworms remain there and make it their new home where they mature and reproduce more tiny heartworms.  This cycle takes an average of six months after the original mosquito bite.

In order to diagnose the presence of heartworms, your vet checks for microfilaria in your dog’s blood.  But the presence of these tiny heartworms alone may not cause any symptoms of illness. 

A few of these parasites are not strong enough to cause any problem and your dog may not have to go through any kind of treatment and medication.  In fact, only a small percentage of dogs in an area may become noticeably sick from heartworm.  It usually requires a heavy infestation from a large number of worms for your dog to show any symptom of illness.

Once your dog show symptoms of this illness however, treatment can be rather difficult and your dog will most likely be hospitalized.  The drugs used during the treatment are very toxic and harsh on your dog.  For that reason, the best way of preventing heartworm infestation is through preventive measures. 

Your vet will more likely prescribe certain drugs to inhibit young heartworms while they are just starting to grow under the skin.  Most vets will advise you to give your dog daily doses of this medication several weeks before the mosquito season starts. 

He may also advise you to continue on with the treatment until about two months after the mosquito season is over.  This could mean year round in some parts of the country where the climate is always mostly warm.

Your vet may also recommend another form of treatment that is only given once a month. This treatment kills all the baby heartworms that have accumulated during that months and thereby preventing the start of infestation.

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Heartworms: What are heartworms?

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