Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis)

Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) –Written by Steph Tufft Veterinary Nurse,Groomer etcwebsite

The subject of Heartworm (known as Filaria in Tenerife) is one that comes up time and time again amongst dog owners. It is a parasite which is not prevalent in the UK due to the climate, however, sadly here in Tenerife it is a widespread threat. There are ways to prevent it though, orally, topically and via injection, which I have listed below:

The injection method is probably the easiest and most effective. It lasts for a year and is ultimately much cheaper than the other 2. The most common oral treatment is “Cardotek” which is administered on a monthly basis. These are tasty meat flavoured tablets so your pooch will wolf them down! Then the topical method – Several flea and tick spot on treatments now cover Heartworm as well as a range of other parasites. It is my personal belief, however, that a product that claims to treat too many things cannot possible be as effective as a parasite specific treatment.

To give you a little bit of an insight into it – Heartworm, or Filaria, is transmitted by mosquito bites. The mosquito acts as the host for the larval stage of the worm (microfilaria). This then penetrates the dog’s skin and travels through the body to the heart. These grow, infesting the chambers on the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs. The Heartworm itself can reach up to 12 inches in length which is one heck of a long worm!

Unfortunately a sudden infestation can kill the dog instantly as it can block the heart and blood vessels – luckily this doesn’t happen very often, but if your dog is elderly or in poor health it does run a higher risk. The female Heartworm produces thousands of live young each day – these then stay in the bloodstream of the dog for up to 3 years. It is a frightening parasite and more so because it can remain silent for some time until symptoms start to become apparent. These symptoms include coughing, weightloss, apathy. Over time the dog may start to cough up blood and breathing is hindered. Obviously, if your dog is showing any of these signs you mustn’t instantly come to the conclusion of “its life threatening”, but do see your Vet to discount anything nasty. It is a traumatic progression and, if caught too late, can be untreatable.

If you have not treated your dog for Heartworm then you can get them tested quickly and cheaply at your Vet. A small drop of blood is taken and the results are almost instant. It would then be advisable to begin prevention (or sadly in some cases, cure).

Our four legged furry friends are important to us and so we want to ensure they are kept in the best health possible.


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