Latin: Dirofilaria immitis
Heartworm is so named as the adults live in the heart of affected dogs and cats. They are the largest worms, and the adults look like strands of cooked spaghetti. Mosquitoes are needed for these worms to complete their lifecycle. Therefore at the present time, there is little risk of infection for dogs and cats resident in the UK. However, if you are travelling to other parts of the world with your pet, such as southern Europe, the US and Australia, it is worth talking to your vet about a suitable prevention protocol as heartworm infection can prove fatal.
How will my dog or cat get a heartworm infection?
Dogs and Cats get infected with heartworm after a bite from a mosquito.
What should I look out for in my pet?
Heartworm is one of the most dangerous worms for your pet if travelling abroad. Dogs in particular are more seriously affected5. Signs can however take months to develop and may include:
- weight loss/reduced appetite
- becoming easily tired when exercised
- excessive panting
- difficulty breathing
- death (if left untreated)
Although humans can contract heartworm, we are not ideal hosts, so the risk of developing serious illness as a result of exposure to this parasite is low.
How often should I worm my pet for heartworm?
Treating dogs and cats with heartworm can be a lengthy process and in some cases the pet becomes very ill from the worm infection. For heartworm, prevention really is better than cure!
Make sure you talk to your vet well before you intend to travel to ensure all the appropriate paper work and processes are followed to allow your pet to travel with you.