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'Tis The Hearthworm Season (I).

By Terry Hobbs.


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Although we normally associate heartworm disease with dogs, cats can and do get heartworms. If you live in an area where there are mosquitoes and a population of dogs with heartworm disease -- like the Southeastern United States, along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and certain areas of Australia and Japan, for example -- your cat is at risk for contracting heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease is the situation where adult worms (of the species Dirofilaria immitis) have lodged themselves inside the right chambers of the cat's (or dog's) heart. Sometimes the heartworms will be in the large vein that feeds blood into the heart, or occasionally in other parts of the body. A dog can have tens, or even hundreds, of heartworms. Cats normally only have a few, but even one heartworm can be deadly to a cat.

Heartworms can grow to be 4 to 6 inches long, and are skinny and white. They start life, however, as larvae -- tiny creatures that can swim in the bloodstream. The larvae go through several stages before they mature into adult worms. One of these stages must be passed inside of a mosquito in order for the maturation process to complete.

Dogs are normally the host population for heartworm infection. They are the animals in which heartworms live the longest and produce the most larvae. This is because there are more heartworms -- male and female -- inside of dogs, so the worms can reproduce. Because there are so few heartworms inside of cats, the chances of them reproducing and generating larvae is extremely unlikely.

The spread of heartworm disease occurs like this. A dog that has heartworms that have reproduced will have larvae in its bloodstream for a period of time.




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