What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through the bites of mosquitos and primarily is caused by a parasitic worm named dirofilaria immitis.
Pets, including cats, dogs, and ferrets can become what is called a definitive host, meaning that the parasitic worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate, and then produce offspring to start the cycle over again. This serious condition I referred to as heartworm disease because the worms live in the blood vessels, lungs, and heart of an infected animal.
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 vet is able to complete blood tests in order to detect heartworm proteins that are released into an animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins aren't detectable until about 5 months after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important to remember that heartworm disease may cause serious complications and potentially be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment for heartworm disease can be quite expensive too since it require multiple visits to the vet, hospitalization, bloodwork, X-rays, and a series of injections. Because of this, we way that prevention is the best treatment for heartworm disease.
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 always easier, safer, and more affordable than treating the disease in a progressed state. A number of heartworm preventive treatments can also help to protect your pet against other parasites like whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms.