First described over a century ago, heartworm is a type of parasitic worm which has now been reported in all 50 of the United States. Affecting cats, dogs, ferrets, foxes and wolves, heartworm can also be passed to humans in rare cases. As pet owners, we need to be especially aware of the dangers of heartworm and take measures to protect our dogs and cats from this horrible parasite.
Heartworm & Your Pets
The species of heartworm that dogs and cats can catch has the Latin name Dirofilaria immitis. It is a type of roundworm which infects mammals and lives in the lung arteries of the lungs, and sometimes within the heart. Infection by these worms can cause many health complications and will result in death if the symptoms are not identified and treated.
Understanding Heartworm Infection
Protecting your dog or cat from heartworm starts with an understanding of how pets become infected. This means taking a look at the heartworm life-cycle. The source for infection is always a mammal, perhaps a stray dog or wild ferret. Heartworm rely on another parasite to pass from one mammal to another and that parasite is the flying blood-sucker, the mosquito. When a mosquito feeds on a heartworm-infected mammal, it consumes blood and heartworm in its larval form. When that same mosquito feeds on another animal, it regurgitates some of the blood from its last meal, carrying the larvae to the new host. These larvae enter the bloodstream where they travel to the organs and grow to mature heartworm, so that the cycle of infection can continue.
Tips to Help You Protect Your Pet
As with most health related issues, prevention of heartworm is better than a cure. If caught at the early stages, pets with heartworm can be treated with medication, however this is expensive and takes several weeks to complete. To help keep your pets healthy and safe, follow these top tips.
As mosquitoes play an essential role in heartworm transmission, you should take precautions to minimize mosquito-friendly habitats around your home. Do not allow even the smallest amount of rain or waste water to lie stagnant for an extended period, as mosquitoes use these as breeding grounds.
If there are mosquito-friendly features such as ponds or marshes near your home, use plants such as lavender and citronella in your garden as natural mosquito repellents.
Keep your pet indoors at times when mosquitoes are at their most active, particularly at the dawn and dusk.
You can also protect your pets from heartworm by using a pet medicine such as Revolution for Cats & Dogs. Revolution has the active ingredient selamectin and comes in the form of a spot-on, which is applied directly to the animals skin. The makers of Revolution, Pfizer, say that a monthly application of the product will prevent heartworm, as well as kill fleas, controls ticks and treats ear mite and sarcoptic mange.
Tell your pet-owning friends about the dangers of heartworm and let them know about Revolution. As more people who choose to protect their pets from heartworm, hopefully the spread of this parasite will slow!