Heartworm is exactly what it sounds like. Heartworms are worms that grow up to fourteen inches long and live in the heart and pulmonary arteries of a dog that has been infected by a mosquito.
The good news is that conditions must be ideal. Not all mosquitos can transmit heartworm. Only specific species of mosquitoes can carry heartworm larva, by way of blood taken by biting an infected animal and then transmitting it to a dog.
Adult female heartworms, living in an infected animal, give birth to microfilaria, microscopic baby worms. When the mosquito bites an infected animal, it becomes a carrier of microfilaria circulating through the animal’s bloodstream. which are at an earlier stage of development than the larva.
The mosquito must then remain in a warm climate above 57 degrees Fahrenheit for a few weeks after it bites the first dog. During that time the microfilaria matures into larva and are ready to infect another dog. If the temperature drops below 57 the mosquito will die.
After the infected mosquito bites another unsuspecting dog, the larva lives in the dog’s skin for approximately three months before traveling into the blood system.
Heartworms mature approximately six months after initially infecting a dog and once mature can live in a dog for about six years.
This is very simplified but hopefully enough to make pet parents aware of the process so that an informed decision can be made about protection against Heartworm disease.
Heartworm disease affects the lungs as well as the heart and pulmonary system. It is life-threatening. A simple blood test performed by a veterinarian regularly can help monitor if your dog is infected with heartworm and should be performed even if your dog is on a preventative.
Just an added note: Human do NOT catch heartworm disease from their dogs. A human can be infected with heartworm but only the same way as a dog can which is from an infected mosquito. However, humans do not make good hosts for heartworms. It is rare in a human and with treatment can make a complete recovery.