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Dover Area Animal Hospital

What are heartworms?

Kid with dog licking his nose

By: Kendall

Posted on September 15, 2021

Did you know that there are an estimated 1.1 million pets in the U.S. battling heartworm? Heartworms are parasites that can lead to “severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and death”, according to the FDA. They are long, pale worms that resemble spaghetti noodles.

Mosquitos are intermediate hosts of heartworms, meaning that they contain small heartworms that can then get transferred to your pets. This is the only way heartworms are spread. Once inside the body, it only takes less than a year for the worms to grow to their adult size. A pet can be affected by as many as 250 worms at a time, although the average “worm burden” is much lower. Once your pet is infected, the heartworms can live anywhere from 2-7 years. That is 2-4 years in cats and 5-7 years in dogs.

Heartworms can lead to other complications as well, such as caval syndrome, blood clots in the lungs, and damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Treatment for the disease is expensive and time-consuming, and can also be dangerous to the pet.

Luckily, there are methods of prevention for these pests, meaning your pet can be kept out of harm’s way with some careful planning. Dover Area Animal Hospital offers several methods of prevention. Our most popular is Interceptor, which also protects against hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm, and whipworm. Interceptor is a chewable medicine that is given monthly.

In addition to preventative medicine, the American Heartworm Association advises pet owners to “Think 12”. This means pets should be tested for heartworm every 12 months, as well as being on 12 months of heartworm preventative. We also offer heartworm and lyme testing at our office. In order to adequately serve our clients, we require that any pets receiving heartworm preventative have had a heartworm test within the last year. If you’re interested in prevention for your pet, you can call us at (717) 292-9669 to schedule an appointment or place an order for pickup (if eligible).