Heartworm At High Elevations

| 4/3/2017 2:07:00 PM

Tags: heartworm in canines, Bruce McElmurray, Colorado,


We are multiple dog parents that live remotely at high elevation. When it comes to canine disease we are  lay people with no specific training other than years of accumulated experience. We have been told by several veterinarians that heartworm is pretty much non-existent in our area because of our location and weather conditions. It is usually not even considered much of a possibility in our locale. 

One of our four German Shepherd Dogs recently developed a dry cough and we took her to our vet for diagnosis and treatment. An x-ray was taken and all her vitals were good except it appeared she either had bronchitis or ‘possibly’ heartworm. Heartworm was discounted somewhat in favor of bronchitis since our area is not known for being heartworm infected. She is on treatment for bronchitis; however if she does not clear up soon she will be tested for heartworm even though our area has such low exposure for heartworm. As I studied her x-rays I was concerned from what I saw so I did some research on the parasite.  

Heartworm Transmitters 

Mosquitoes are the primary transmitter of heartworm in dogs and cats. An adult male mosquito has a lifespan of 10 days. A female adult mosquito has a  lifespan of 42-56 days. In everything I have read and experienced pertaining to mosquitoes I have not discovered one single redeeming quality in the pest. I discovered that the males buzz to attract females but the males do not bite. The females are the ones who bite and suck blood. 

How Heartworm Is Transmitted 

Adult heartworm living in an infected animal produces microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the animal's bloodstream. When that infected animal is then bitten by a mosquito the insect picks up the baby worms that within 10-14 days develop into an infectious larvae stage. When that mosquito then bites another host animal the larvae are deposited on the skin and enter the animal via the wound left by the mosquito. Then they travel to the blood stream as they further develop into the adult stage and end up in the heart and lungs where they develop into adults up to 10-12” long. They continue to reproduce inside the animal generating even more worms. Adults can live in an animal up to 7 years.  


Mild persistent dry cough, loss of appetite or weight loss, lethargy, rapid or difficult breathing, and reluctance to exercise are all heartworm symptoms. There are other illnesses that also have some or all of these symptoms so a blood test needs to be conducted by a veterinarian to rule out or diagnose heartworm. Heartworm is a life threatening disease that will ultimately kill the pet therefore early detection through testing is imperative.  

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