Dirofilariasis, commonly referred to as heartworm, is a parasitic disease that primarily targets dogs, as well as other species (foxes, wolves, coyotes, and raccoons) and sometimes even cats. The microscopic parasite, called Dirofilaria immitis, can be found all over the world.
Mosquitoes transmit the parasite. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, the mosquito feeds on the dog’s blood and becomes a carrier of heartworm larvae, called microfilaria. When this same mosquito bites another animal, it transmits the larvae. The larvae lodge in the animal’s tissues, where they develop, and then make their way to the animal’s heart and lungs. The process can take seven to nine months, interfering with the proper functioning of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
To diagnose these parasites, veterinary clinics most often use SNAP 4DX, a simple blood test that detects not only heartworm, but also three types of tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease.
Screening is important, as it helps ensure your dog is not infected before preventive medication is administered. Administering heartworm medications to dogs that already have the disease can be harmful, even fatal.
It’s always better to prevent than to treat when it comes to heartworm. You can protect your pet by giving a preventive medication at home, once a month during mosquito season. Most heartworm medications also prevent intestinal parasites; some prevent fleas and other skin parasites as well.
We will be happy to discuss the various options with you and determine the best one for your pet.