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If you’ve lived in Hampton Roads for very long, you know that mosquitoes are here to stay.  Unfortunately, these pests can carry deadly heartworm disease, which affects dogs and cats.

As the name suggests, heartworms live in the heart, but they can also migrate to the lungs and brain.  While a dog can carry a burden of numerous heartworms before dying, a cat can have a deadly reaction to the presence of a single worm. 

And treatment for heartworm disease is not as short and sweet as it is for intestinal worms.  Ongoing treatment for heartworm disease can last up to 6 months, requires total cage rest for the entire treatment period, and – perhaps scariest of all – involves the use of an arsenic-based drug.  If your pet’s doctor has been harping on the issue of heartworm prevention, now you know why.

The Heartworm Life Cycle

  1. A mosquito bites a heartworm-infected dog and ingests tiny heartworm larvae along with the animal’s blood.  (Wolves, foxes, and coyotes can also carry the disease.)
  2. Inside the mosquito, these larvae develop into their infective stage.
  3. When the same mosquito bites another dog (or a cat), the larvae infect the healthy animal.
  4. Without a monthly dose of preventative, the larvae continue to develop inside the dog or cat, eventually reaching the heart and lungs.

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Information for this article was borrowed from the Merial publication “Protector,” Summer 2010 issue.

This article originally appeared on April 4, 2011.

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