Heartworm disease is a serious condition that may result in heart failure, damage to your pet's internal organs and even death. This disease is most often found in Middlesex cats, dogs and ferrets, Here, our vets explain why prevention of this parasite-borne condition is so critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets, including cats, dogs and ferrets, can become what is called a definitive host. This means that the parasitic worms live inside an animal's body, mate and then produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels of an infected creature.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don't appear until the disease is advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your veterinarian is able to conduct blood testing for heartworm antigens that are released into your pet's bloodstream when they are infected by these parasites. heartworm proteins can't generally be detected until about 5 months (at the earliest!) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important to keep in mind that the treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications in your pet and potentially be toxic for them on its own. Not only that, but treatment is both expensive and invasive, requiring multiple visits to the veterinarians, hospitalizations, x-rays, bloodwork tests and injections. Because of this, we say that the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
That said, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic. It kills adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride will be administered via injection into your pet's back muscles in order to treat the disease.
Topical FDA-approved solutions are also available. These can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied directly to the animal's skin.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.
Heartworm prevention is quite a bit safer, easier and is much more affordable than treating the disease in a progressed state. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help to protect your pet against other parasites including roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.