No state is free of heartworm disease, but according to a survey conducted by the American Heartworm Society (AHS) the average number of heartworm positive cases per veterinary clinic has been inching upwards. The top five states to report heartworm incidences were Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee. All five of these states have been in the top tier for heartworm related cases since the AHS began collecting data in 2001, which means we’re having trouble making progress.
Heartworm disease is a potentially deadly disease that affects dogs, cats, and ferrets. It’s caused by a small worm about the size of a spaghetti noodle. When a mosquito bites an animal infested with heartworms, the mosquito picks up the baby worms in the blood system and transfers them to the next dog it bites.
These heartworm larvae grow inside the dog’s skin, then make their way through the bloodstream to the heart, usually in about a six months after the dog was bitten. The heartworms then set up residence in the right heart chamber which pumps blood to the pulmonary arteries of the lungs.
Dogs can live a very long time with heartworms and never show any symptoms. But once symptoms start to show, the dog is already seriously infected. Typical symptoms include coughing weight loss, fluid backup in abdomen, lethargy, exercise intolerance (which means they run out of steam easily). Heartworm disease is a very preventable disease, but in areas like the Mississippi River Valley where mosquitoes thrive, it takes constant vigilance from owners to prevent heartworms.
The most common method used to prevent heartworms is monthly heartworm preventative medicine prescribed by a veterinarian. These preventatives do not stop mosquitoes from biting animals. They simply kill the young heartworm larva in the animal’s system. This is why it’s very important to have your pets regularly tested to stay committed to your heartworm preventative plan. If you miss a dose even just once, and a mosquito bites your animal, it could result in heartworm disease.
Once a pet becomes infected, treating heartworms becomes very dangerous. Because the worms live in the heart, when they are killed, they don’t magically go away. They’re not like intestinal worms that can be expelled. They die in the heart and stay there. The bodies of the worm then have to slowly decompose. When that happens, the worm’s body is broken down into little pieces. A dog undergoing heartworm treatment must be kept confined properly as vigorous activity can substantially increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Because heartworm disease is so prevalent in Mississippi, we are always in need of donations to help our dogs who have tested positive for this disease. We want the pets in our shelter to have a great healthy start to a new life in a loving home. If you would like to make a donation and help us save the lives of these animals please call us at (662) 841-6500 or bring your donation to the shelter at 2400 South Gloster St. Tupelo, MS, 38801.