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Heartworm disease is caused by a worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is easily transmitted by the bite of certain mosquitoes’ females (particularly of the Anopheles spp.). Once the dog is bitten, the worms are passed on to the blood and reside within the lungs and the great blood vessels of the affected animal. Female worms continue their vital cycle producing baby worms that are known is microfilariae, that float around in the bloodstream (where they can circulate for as much as two years or more), while the adults stay put in the heart, the lungs or the major blood vessels, like I’ve said before.
The fact is that adult heartworms will occupy an important space in the heart and the lungs while damaging the blood-vessel lining and walls, while the microfilariae will pose a risk to other dogs, since any mosquito biting the dog will ingest these and pass them on to many other dogs, perpetuating the disease amongst the canine population.
It ought to be mentioned that mosquitoes play a necessary role in the transmission of heartworm infection, because when a mosquito bites a sick dog the infective microfilariae will be passed on to other dogs through the mosquitoes bites. Outdoor dogs in areas of heavy vegetation, which offers good mosquito cover have the greatest risk of infection, specially if they stay outside during the night (from dusk to dawn hours), when the mosquitoes’ females are more active. That is why it is so important for dogs to sleep inside the house, well protected from being in contact with these insects.
Filariasis has some specific symptoms that can be easily identified in the sick dog:
Yet it must be outlined that most of these symptoms will not appear until the dog is severely affected by the disease. It is therefore important in areas known to be at risk, to test for microfilariae early in life and keep the dog under preventive treatment for life.
Responsible owners should be aware that preventive treatment is a much better solution than a treatment that needs to be enforced after the dog has been diagnosed. The reason is very simple: Filariasis treatment is not an easy one and is not free from risk. In fact, not only the disease for itself can be fatal, but the treatment too poses serious risk for the health of the affected animal.
Knowing this and knowing that heartworm infestation can be easily and simply prevented, it is a pity that far too many dogs remain unprotected and can contract this life threatening disease.
In Spain there are some areas of very high prevalence of the disease, such as all of the Mediterranean basin, and particularly the Gerona, Barcelona, Tarragona, Castellón, Valencia, Alicante, Murcia areas, as well as the Balearic and the Canary Islands. It is therefore important that you discuss with your Vet the details on how to prevent your Bullmastiff from getting infected.
(Original text written by Christina of Lima-Netto and Federico Baudin specifically for this web page and protected with Copyright. Not even whole can be reproduced not partially by any way, without Castro-Castalia's express assent in writing)
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