Adopting a dog is one of the most memorable moments in every pet parent’s life. Irrespective of whether you’ve had pets earlier or the breed you select, having a dog at home can change your life. They can help you deal with feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. Also, family dogs are known to have a positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Nevertheless, adopting a dog also comes with its own set of stumbling blocks. Firstly, it’s taking care of your dog is a serious responsibility that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Taking your dog out for walks, feeding and grooming them, monitoring their health – these are just some of the responsibilities you’ll have to fulfill to take care of your canine friend.
Not to mention, many pets often bring a ton of health risks such as parasitic infections and fur allergies. If you’ve ever talked to someone about bringing home a dog, they’ll likely have warned you about various diseases and infections. One such common belief is that you can get heartworm disease from a dog.
In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into this topic and find out whether it is possible for humans to get infected with heartworms. We’ll also find out what you can do to prevent heartworm infection in your dog. Let’s get started.
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm or dog heartworm, scientifically known as Dirofilaria immitis, is a thread-like parasitic roundworm. It’s typically spread from one host to another through mosquito bites. It’s called a “heartworm” because in certain pets, such as dogs, adult worms can block the pulmonary artery and other blood vessels. The condition is known as dirofilariasis. This, in turn, causes severe ailments including heart disease, lung damage, and organ failure.
How Is Heartworm Disease Transmitted?
First things first – your dog’s bodily fluids, excreta, or saliva can’t directly infect you with heartworms. Better still, the chances of humans contracting heartworm disease are extremely minimal. In fact, between 1941 and 2005, there were only 81 reported cases of heartworm disease in humans. Even if you get infected with heartworm microfilariae, they’ll typically die while making their way through your skin.
The only way heartworms can enter your bloodstream is through a mosquito bite. And that too, only if the mosquito has previously fed on a host animal whose bloodstream is infected with heartworm larvae. Typically, when a mosquito feeds on an infected animal, heartworms present in their blood enter the mosquito’s body and reproduce in its gut.
If such a mosquito bites you, the heartworm larvae or microfilariae are transmitted to your blood through your skin. However, most microfilariae don’t make it inside all the way to your bloodstream. This makes it difficult for heartworms to completely mature in a human host. This, in turn, drastically reduces the risk of heartworm disease in humans.
Heartworm Disease in Humans: Is There a Possibility?
However, when heartworm larvae die inside your body, it can cause inflammation in certain organs. Think of it as your body’s mechanism to fight the parasite. This condition, called pulmonary dirofilariasis, often results in the formation of modules in your lungs. In most cases, these nodules are benign and can be detected with an X-ray or CT scan.
Typical symptoms of pulmonary dirofilariasis include:
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Fever chills
In some cases, there might also be fluid buildup around the lungs. The good news is that you don’t need any surgical intervention or medicines to treat this condition. It’s just your body’s defense mechanism reacting to the heartworm larvae. The symptoms usually don’t persist for too long either.
It is, however, important to consult a doctor and find out whether any of the nodules are blocking your arteries. Your doctors will also prescribe medication to help relieve the symptoms.
What Dog Parents Really Need to Prioritize
While the risk of heartworm disease in humans is almost negligible, the same isn’t true for your four-legged companion. Unlike humans, a dog’s body isn’t designed to kill heartworm larvae as they enter the bloodstream. When the larvae mature into adult worms inside a dog’s body, they can cause severe complications including artery blockages and organ damage.
Here a few symptoms you should watch out for:
- Persistent cough (with the occasional presence of blood)
- Excessive weight loss
Make sure you immediately get in touch with your veterinarian if you observe any of these symptoms in your dog. They’ll most likely prescribe an FDA-approved arsenic-containing drug such as Immiticide and Diroban. It’ll help kill the parasite present inside the dog’s body.
It’s also a good idea to give your dog preventive medicines such as Heartguard Plus chewables and tablets to reduce the risk of heartworm disease. However, make sure you get in touch with your vet and ask them to prescribe the right dosage.
To sum it up, it’s impossible for humans to contract heartworm disease directly from dogs. The parasitic worms can only be transmitted through an intermediate host like mosquitoes. Also, the human body is well equipped to fight heartworm larvae as soon as they start entering the bloodstream. However, if you have a pet dog, you need to take the right preventive measures to protect them from heartworm disease.