What is it and how does it affect my pet?

Veterinarians throughout Spain are warning of the proliferation of the heartworm in dogs, commonly known as heartworm. It is a parasitic infectious disease It affects cats, dogs, and occasionally humans. But, above all, it affects dogs.

Adult worms parasitize in the heart of the infested animal (hence they are called heartworms) and/or in the lungs, where they cause a slowly progressing disease with severe cardiac and respiratory symptoms which can sometimes be deadly.

The parasite is transmitted by the bite of a bug, as is the case with ticks and fleas, but in this case it is an insect, the same one that also causes the infection. leishmaniasis: the mosquito.

“It is a common mosquito, the one that also bites humans,” says the Dr. Anna Ortuñospecialist in Animal Health and Anatomy of the veterinary school of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. But “one or two parasites are not a problem,” he adds.

A low-incidence disease

Things get tricky, then, when “there are a lot of parasites, because they obstruct proper heart function,” says Ortuño. In addition, it is dangerous because it can give a “symptomatology evolve into a very serious picture and impede the correct functionality of the organ”, he says.

The disease is widespread throughout Europe, especially in the mediterranean area. But “it is not an excessively pathogenic disease,” says Ortuño.

According to an investigation by experts from the universities of Salamanca and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, whose conclusions have been published in the number of May of the scientific magazine ‘Animals’it is confirmed that the parasite is present in dogs throughout the country, so it is considered an endemic infection, that is, it is constantly present, but low incidence. In Catalonia, “the area is very focused and there is only risk, at the moment, in Terres de l’Ebre”assures Ortuño.

Moderate to high risk

However, Spain is one of the countries in southern Europe where the risk of infection is between moderate and high.

The study reveals, after analyzing the data obtained from 9,543 blood samples from dogs of all the provinces of Spain, that “the average prevalence obtained was 6.47%, with those above 11% being those of the northwestern and southern provinces, Balearic and Canary Islands: Tenerife (17.32%), Ibiza (17.09%), Gran Canaria (16.03%) and La Palma (15.65%), followed by Cádiz (13.68%), Pontevedra (12.61 %), La Gomera (11.54%), Mallorca (11.24%) and Huelva (11.11%)”.

The problem is that, although it is not a disease that has a high incidence in Spain -the average prevalence is 6.47%-, it can get to kill the dog. “Since a mosquito bites a dog until it is detected, it can take up to six months,” says Dr. Ortuño.

But beware… If the mosquito bites the infected animalautomatically the insect becomes disease transmitter, as happens on many occasions. The positive part is that the animal has to have “very high parasitic loads to develop problems,” Ortuño clarifies.


If the animal has been in an endemic area and presents “occasional cough, some tiredness… and it is getting more and more (he refuses to do any type of exercise) it is possible that his heart is not working well” and he has a high number of parasites that are “affecting his heart,” reports Ortuño.

In that case, it is convenient to “do a normal blood test in a clinic” to rule out that he has contracted the disease.

And if you have contracted it, you have to start a treatment to try to eradicate the parasites. But it should always be done under the supervision of a professional, since it must be done “gradually so that it does not have secondary effects”, explains the doctor from the UAB. Because if it is done quickly, the remedy may be worse than the disease: “If all the parasites die at once, there may be a plug in the cardiovascular area that produces a greater obstruction,” says Ortuño.

Treatment up to ten months

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The ideal, then, is to carry out treatments that last “between six and ten months“, he clarifies. “And, above all, have the dog very controlled, accompanying the treatment with complementary therapy for reduce inflammation of the organs and additional infections“.

To prevent a mosquito from biting a dog, there are repellents that, as in the case of humans, can be more or less effective. There are also “antiparasitic treatments, which are administered preventively once a month,” explains the UAB veterinarian. But it is only recommended to give it to animals that live in endemic areas, to prevent the animal from creating “a drug resistance chart“, as also happens with humans.

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