According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, heartworm is a potentially serious (even fatal) parasite that affects dogs, cats, and pets such as ferrets. In the wild, heartworm is found in many animals, including foxes, raccoons, and opossums.
Mosquitoes transfer the heartworm parasite from animal to animal, usually in the form of larvae. The larvae mature in animals and adults can reach lengths of up to 14 inches. Worms affect the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals.
If male and female heartworms are present in your pet’s body, they can reproduce and create new larvae. The larvae can also affect your pet’s immune system.
Heartworm can be found all over the US and in other parts of the world. Many pet owners think heartworm is a canine problem, but cats can also become infected. Exposure to mosquito bites is a major risk factor.
Your veterinarian can perform tests to detect the presence of heartworm in your pet. Early detection is key to successful treatment. Treatment can be challenging as it involves killing the parasites and then managing your dog’s response. Treatment for cats can be even more difficult.
The good news is that heartworm is preventable! Your vet will test for the presence of heartworm before providing preventives. Ongoing testing is important to ensure that your pet has not become infected.
You can learn more about heartworm prevention on the American Heartworm Society’s website.