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Heartworms pose a serious risk for raccoons and other pets. Symptoms of heartworm infection will typically begin to appear more than seven months after the initial mosquito bite that transmitted the heartworms to your pet. Dogs are most commonly diagnosed with heartworms but both domestic and exotic pets can be at risk for infection. If your raccoon has heartworms, he needs veterinary treatment.
Heartworms, officially known as Dirofilaria immitis, are a type of internal parasite that live and thrive inside a the right side of an infected animal's heart as well as in the arteries of his lungs. They are spread when an animal that is infected with heartworms is bitten by a mosquito. After the mosquito bites the infected animal it becomes a carrier and can transmit the disease by biting an uninfected animal. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, heartworms can infect a variety of animals including raccoons, dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, ferrets, wolves, seals and sea lions.
Symptoms of Heartworms
Heartworms mature in six months and symptoms of infection can occur after that. Because heartworms thrive in the lungs and heart, respiratory problems are very common in any animal who is suffering from heartworms. If you notice your raccoon tiring easily, coughing, vomiting or having difficulty breathing heartworms may be to blame. A trip to a qualified exotic pet veterinarian who is comfortable examining and treating your pet can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of heartworms.
Minimizing Your Heartworm Risk
Its always better to do what you can to prevent your pet raccoon from being exposed to or developing heartworms than it will be to treat the problem. If you live in an area with moderate to severe mosquito activity, keep your raccoon inside as much as possible. Make sure to avoid letting your pet out during especially mosquito heavy times of day, such as dawn and dusk. Avoid standing water. Empty pots, buckets, bowls or any other water holding object that would provide mosquitoes with a place to breed. Use pet safe mosquito repellents in areas where your raccoon is going to be. Use heartworm preventative on dogs and cats to reduce the risk of your raccoon catching heartworms from one of your other pets. If your raccoon lives in an outdoor enclosure, drape the outside of the enclosure with mosquito netting to help keep bugs out.
Heartworm Preventatives and Treatment
If you live in an area where heartworms are a significant problem and your pet raccoon is at risk, discuss possible measures you can take to prevent your raccoon from getting heartworms with your veterinarian. No heartworm preventative products are currently produced or marketed specifically for raccoons and you should not use a product on your raccoon without your veterinarian's approval. Similarly, if your raccoon has been diagnosed with heartworms, there is not a broadly accepted method for treating him. Your individual veterinarian will have to determine what steps to take to protect and preserve your pet's health.
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Heartworm Disease
- American Heartworm Society: Background InformationS
- 2nd Chance: What Is Baylisascaris procyonis?
- Plymouth Mosquito Control Project: Dog Heartworms
- Pomona Animal Hospital: Heartworm Prevention Monthly
- University of Arkansas: Mosquito Control Around the Home and in Communities
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images