Heartworm is a very serious pet disease that can have fatal consequences if left untreated. It can happen anywhere in the world and is caused by worms that can be up to a foot long that live in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels of the infected pet. Dogs are primarily affected by heartworm disease, but it can also be found in cats, ferrets, and other mammalian species. Even humans are known to have had heartworm infections in the past.
Statistics About Heartworm Infections
1. The average lifespan of heartworms in untreated pets is 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats.
2. The mosquito is the only known vector for transmitting heartworm.
3. Virtually 100% of dogs exposed to infectious heartworm larvae will develop an active infection.
4. Heartworm indicators are found in the blood of 80%-90% of dogs.
5. Cats have up to a 1 in 3 chance of naturally fighting off a heartworm infection if they are exposed to infectious heartworm larvae.
6. The American Heartworm Society (AHS) estimates that only 55% of dogs in the U.S. are currently on a heartworm preventive.
7. A study performed at NCSU indicated that 25% of cats infected with heartworms were 100% indoor cats.
8. Research suggests that heartworm disease could be virtually eradicated using available preventives.
9. One million dogs are estimated to be heartworm positive in the United States each year, but only 30% of them will actually be diagnosed with a heartworm infection by a veterinarian.
10. Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states.
11. The average worm burden in dogs is 15 worms, but that number can range from 1 to 250 worms.
12. Most cats, ferrets, and other animals typically have 1-3 heartworms when an infection reaches the mature stages.
13. Only 20 percent of cats with heartworm disease have microfilariae in the bloodstream.
14. There is no FDA-approved drug for the treatment of heartworm disease in cats, although symptoms may be managed with medications.
15. It is recommended that cats older than 7 months of age be tested for heartworms before starting heartworm prevention and then annually.
16. Microfilariae are seen in the bloodstream in only 50 to 60 percent of ferrets with heartworm disease.
17. People cannot get heartworms from their pets.
18. The number of dogs who will be affected by heartworm at least once over the course of their lives: 1 in 80.
19. Infections are most prevalent in moist, humid regions of the United States, including along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the southeastern states, the Mississippi River Valley and northern California.
20. Between 1991-1996, only 2% of captured wolves were found to have an active heartworm infection.
21. Giving a dog the wrong heartworm preventative is just as deadly as having an active heartworm infection.
Understanding the Heartworm Infectious Disease
How can a disease that is caused by a foot long worm be considered an infectious disease? It’s because the worms create small larva inside of their host that live in the bloodstream. These larva are called microfilaria and are essentially little baby worms. Exposure to a blood sample that has these little baby heartworms inside of it is enough to create an infection.
It takes about six months for larva to mature into adult heartworms. This is why it is back dogs more than cats and other animals. Most dogs are large enough to have the become adults and this creates the foundation of future infections. Other animals, such as cats, don’t have the same conditions inside of their bodies and this prevents the heartworms from being able to reach a full adult stage. This is why infections in dogs will last longer and often be more likely to be fatal.
Because there are early signs or symptoms of heart in an animal that has been infected, it is important to make sure that proactive treatments are given to each pet. This can help prevent the more serious consequences of heartworm disease, which can be done in blockages of blood flow, an inability to breathe,and even cardiac arrest. By these statistics about heartworm disease, every pet owner will be able to seek out the treatment for their pets that is needed.
Prevention and Dogs
Dogs that have a good immune system have a good chance of fighting off a heartworm infection. Because of the nature of heartworm, however, a good preventative measure may be a choice that pet owners would want to make in conjunction with their veterinarian’s advice.
The one thing that is concerning about heartworm preventative medication is that humans are not supposed to take it. They are actually supposed to call poison control center if they ingest heartworm medication preventative that is intended for dogs. With over 700 fatalities from missed doses in the last year alone, mostly from giving dogs too much of the medication, it is also understandable to see why some pet owners are choosing to ignore the recommendation of giving your pet a preventative to to stop heartworm.
What can pet owners do if they want to take a natural approach to not have their pet become part of these heartworm statistics? Establishing healthy eating habits would be the best course of action to take. Any dog with a compromised immune system is at risk of developing heartworm from a single mosquito bite. Healthy dogs can fight off an infection on their own, even when a small larva and or the bloodstream, because of their natural abilities to fight disease.
It’s fine to operate under the assumption that every dog has heartworms. There’s just a big difference between a dog having heartworm and a dog being infected with heartworm disease. By encouraging exercise, good eating choices, and limiting outside exposure during high mosquito infestation moments, the average pet dog might have the same shot as the wild wolves of being able to stop heartworm on their own.