Heartworm disease is a dangerous sometimes fatal condition that could lead to other serious problems such as severe lung diseases, heart failure, and damage to other organs. Heartworm disease is usually found in dogs, cats, and ferrets. Here, our Poway vets talk about this disease and explain the importance of prevention.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is transmitted through mosquito bites and is most often caused by a parasitic worm known as dirogilaria immitis.
Pets including ferrets, cats, and dogs can become the definitive hosts of these parasitic worms, meaning they can live inside your pet, and mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. Veterinarians call this dangerous condition heartworm disease because the worms live inside the lungs, heart, and blood vessels of the infected animals.
The symptoms of heartworm disease
The symptoms of heartworm disease usually don't become visible until the disease has entered its more advanced stages. The most common signs of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How do vets check for heartworms in pets?
Your veterinarian will conduct comprehensive blood tests to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the bloodstream of infected animals. Heartworm proteins can't be found until approximately five months (at the earliest) after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What happens if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Please remember that treatment for heartworm disease can result in serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment can also be very expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and a series of injections. This is why our veterinary team is always expressing the importance of prevention because it's the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will provide you with any available treatment options. 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 to prevent your pet from getting heartworm disease
It's essential to always keep your pet on preventive medication in order to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend having your pets tested for heartworms every year.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.