Ten dogs have tested positive at the New Hartford Animal Hospital for heartworm disease this year, while only one dog tested positive last year. This deadly disease is preventable.

Heartworm disease results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets, mainly dogs, cats, and ferrets. According to the FDA, it's caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis spread by a mosquito bite.

The dog is the definitive host, meaning that the worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside a dog. The mosquito is the intermediate host, meaning that the worms live inside a mosquito for a short transition period in order to become infective (able to cause heartworm disease).

The worms are called “heartworms” because the adults live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal.

The local dogs testing positive for heartworm disease were not taking the monthly preventative as this deadly disease is preventable.

Eyewitness News reporter Ben Dennis tells us about several possible reasons for the rapid increase in heartworms in CNY including pets traveling to warmer temperatures or adopting infected pets from the South. Again, pets should be on a heartworm medicine as this deadly disease is preventable.

It takes about 6 to 7 months for the infective larvae to mature into adult heartworms in a newly infected dog. The adult heartworms mate and the females release their offspring into the dog’s bloodstream, completing the lifecycle.

Heartworm disease is not contagious, meaning that a dog cannot catch the disease from being near an infected dog. Heartworm disease is only spread through the bite of a mosquito.

Inside a dog, a heartworm’s lifespan is 5 to 7 years. Adult heartworms look like strands of cooked spaghetti, with males reaching about 4 to 6 inches in length and females reaching about 10 to 12 inches in length. The number of worms living inside an infected dog is called the worm burden. The average worm burden in dogs is 15 worms, but that number can range from 1 to 250 worms.

If a heartworm-positive dog is not tested before starting a preventive, the dog will remain infected with adult heartworms until it gets sick enough to show symptoms. Heartworm preventives do not kill adult heartworms. Also, giving a heartworm preventive to a dog that has an adult heartworm infection may be harmful or deadly. If microfilariae are in the dog’s bloodstream, the preventive may cause the microfilariae to suddenly die, triggering a shock-like reaction and possibly death.

The treatment for heartworm disease is not easy on the dog or on the owner’s pocketbook. Treatment can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and can cause serious complications, such as life-threatening blood clots to the dog’s lungs. Treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections. The best treatment for heartworms is prevention! Please see your vet today!

[FDA]