Q. How do I know if my pet has heartworms? What is the treatment?
A. Heartworms are a concern in certain parts of the world, such as the USA and warmer parts of Canada, South America, Australia, Southern Europe, Japan, South East Asia and the Middle East. They are transmitted by mosquitoes sucking blood from an infected host and then passing the developed larvae onto a new host through a mosquito bite.
The mature heartworms can be up to 1ft long and can live for 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 in cats. They live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels. The heartworms can cause lung disease, heart failure and even lead to death. Even after having removed the worms, the pet can still be left with damage to these areas.
Symptoms of heartworm infestation include coughing, weight loss, decrease in appetite and lethargy. In severe cases you may also notice pale gums, dark urine and laboured breathing, due to sudden blockages of blood flow produced by large numbers of worms.
Prevention is much better than the cure, and if you live in an area where heartworm is prevalent you should treat monthly year round. If you are unsure if it is a problem in your area, I suggest you ask your local vet. Also, your vet will be able to advise you about the most effective treatments available to you.
Treatment depends on the level of infestation and the veterinarian's preferences. The pet will need to be stabilized before treatment can begin and exercise should be kept to an absolute minimum. In severe cases, surgical removal of the worms may be required.