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How Do Dogs Get Heartworm?

Jul 24, 2016 | Disease and Symptoms, Dogs, Pet Care, Pet Safety

“How do dogs get heartworm” is one of the most common questions dog owners ask us in the spring. Most owners know the importance of booking their dog’s annual heartworm testing appointment, but there is often confusion about how exactly heartworm is contracted. To clear things up for you this heartworm season, we’ve put together a simple guide that explains exactly how dogs get heartworm.

Heartworm disease begins with an infected animal that has circulating microfilaria in its blood. When a mosquito bites this animal, along with the blood it ingests this microfilaria, which then go through two molts in the mosquito’s body over the next 14 days.

Once these molts are completed, the heartworm larvae migrate to the mosquito’s salivary glands where they can then be transmitted into your pet. When the microfilaria enters your pet’s body, they continue to develop under the skin of the bite site until they molt again. After this molt, the larvae migrate into the muscles, chest, and abdomen of your pet where they remain another 45 to 60 day. At this point, these immature heartworms enter the bloodstream and are carried through the body until they reach their final destination in the pulmonary artery.

Once the heartworms are in the heart, they continue to grow over the course of the next three or four months. When fully mature, female heartworms can reach a length of up to 30 cm whereas a male peaks at approximately 23 cm. While inside the heart, these mature heartworms mate to produce more microfilaria, which circulate the infected pet’s blood until a mosquito ingests them and the cycle begins again.

As you can see, the heartworm process is very long and risky for your pet. When caught early enough your pet does have a chance of recovering from heartworm with the right treatment, but prevention is always better.

When your pet comes in for their annual heartworm test, we will take a small sample of blood to determine whether or not they are infected with heartworms. If they are not, we will prescribe an easy to administer preventative treatment that you can give to your pet on a monthly basis to protect them from heartworm carrying mosquitos. On the other hand, if your pet has contracted the heartworm virus, we will develop a treatment plan to help rid them of the worms.

For more information on how dogs get heartworm or what to expect during your pet’s annual heartworm testing appointment, give our Kitchener vet clinic a call. Our team is here to answer any questions you may have.