Heartworms are parasites that can cause serious damage to your dog. There are two different types of heartworms: the American heartworm and the European heartworm. Both of these parasites infect your dog’s body in different ways, one through a mosquito’s blood and the other through a snail’s mucus.
The Latin name for the American heartworm is Dirofilaria immitis. This heartworm is especially common in North and South America and in large parts of Southern Europe. This worm is spread by infected mosquitoes. The parasite enters the body via a mosquito bite, from here it travels to the right ventricle and the pulmonary arteries.
In these areas, the parasite matures and causes damage to the heart and blood vessels. Adult worms excrete small larvae into the blood. These circulate through the bloodstream and are then sucked in by a mosquito. From here the process starts again, the mosquito will infect yet another dog.
- A dog may show signs of heart disease such as fainting, panting and excessive coughing. Material coughed up may contain blood.
- A dog may also show signs of anemia such as paleness and general debilitation.
- There may also be the symptoms of partial blockage of the pulmonary arteries. A dog can then suffer from high blood pressure and a swollen fluid-filled abdomen.
A blood test can show the presence of worms and their larvae in the blood. Echocardiography, X-rays, and in some cases an EKG can be used to determine the stage of the disease.
Treatment is very difficult as the sudden killing of a large number of worms can lead to a shock situation or even death. Pulmonary embolisms can also occur. Various treatments are available to keep these to a minimum. One of the options is the treatment for congestive heart failure. However, it is best to use preventatives. Deworming once a month with a good wormer prevents infection with American heartworms.
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The European heart and lungworm
This worm is found all over the world. In the United States and England, however, only in small quantities. This parasitic worm lives in the pulmonary artery and the right ventricle, where it causes considerable damage. The larvae of this worm leave the body through the feces. The larvae then stay in a snail for a while. If another dog subsequently eats an infected snail or comes into contact with the dog’s mucus, it also becomes infected again. The life cycle of this worm then starts all over again.
Most dogs show few symptoms. The symptoms that are there are similar to the symptoms of the American heartworm. The damage caused by the larva as it travels through the body can cause neurological disorders such as paralysis. Sudden bleeding can also sometimes occur for which no explanation can be found.
The presence of infected larvae can be demonstrated by means of a stool examination. A blood test can also be useful because adult worms may be present in it.
Antiparasitic agents will be needed to kill the worms. Just like with American heartworms, it is also very wise to treat your dog preventively with a wormer.