Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure and death in pets. This disease is generally found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our veterinary team explains why prevention is critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilarial immitis.
Dogs can become what is called a definitive host, meaning that the worms live inside the animal, mature into adults and then produce offspring. This condition is referred to as heartworm disease because the worms live in the lungs, blood vessels and heart of an affected dog. Cats and ferrets are atypical hosts where number of heartworms is typically low (1-3 worms), and adult heartworms do not produce offspring.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease's symptoms generally don't appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease here include a swollen abdomen, fatigue, coughing, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) of the female heartworm which are released into the animal’s bloodstream. Heartworm proteins cannot be detected until about seven months after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito. The American Heartworm Society recommends testing every twelve months and year-round preventive medication.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It is important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications itself and be potentially toxic to your pet’s body. Not only that, but treatment can be expensive since it involves multiple veterinary visits, injections, blood work, x-rays, hospitalizations and more. Because of this our vets say that prevention is critical when it comes to heartworm disease.
That said, if your dog is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochlorides is a drug that contains arsenic. It kills adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride will be administered via injection into your dog’s back muscles in order to treat the disease. There is no approved medication for the treatment of heartworm in cats or ferrets.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
Keep your pet on preventive medications in order to stop heartworm disease before it ever arises in your pet. Even if your pet is already on preventive medications, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms every year.
Preventing heartworm disease is easier, safer and more affordable that treating the disease in a progressed state. A number of preventive heartworm treatments can also help to protect your pet against other parasites like roundworms and hookworms.