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Heartworm disease is a serious and possibly fatal disease in pets in the United States, as well as other parts of the world. It is caused by worms that live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of affected animals. These worms cause lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease commonly affects dogs, cats, and ferrets, but they also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and (rarely) humans. Wild species, such as foxes and coyotes, are considered main carriers of the disease.

How is heartworm disease transmitted from one pet to another?

The mosquito plays a vital role in the heartworm life cycle. Adult female heartworms living in an infected animal produce tiny baby worms that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito feeds from an infected animal, it picks up the baby worms. These baby worms develop into “infective stage” larvae over a period of about two days. When the infected mosquito feeds again the larvae are transmitted to the next host. Within the new host, it takes roughly six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. A mature heartworm can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. Since the mature heartworms live so long each mosquito season leads to a growing number of worms.

Heartworm Cycle Map From the American Heartworm Society

How significant is my pet's risk for heartworm infection?

In Louisiana your pet is at a significant risk when it comes to heartworms year round. Across the country heartworm disease is spreading to new regions and areas. Mosquitoes are blown great distances by the wind and infect animals in the new area. Also, relocation of infected pets to new areas contributes to the spread of heartworm disease. Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states. This is why it is so important to make sure your pet has the proper heartworm protection year round, not just in the spring and summer months.

What do I need to know about heartworm testing?

When it comes to heartworm disease the earlier it is detected, the better the chances are. Detecting their presence with a heartworm test given by a veterinarian is important since there are very few early signs of this disease. The test is a blood test that works by spotting heartworm proteins. Results are obtained quickly, many times run in house.

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