What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis which is primarily spread through mosquito bites.
Pets like cats, dogs, and ferrets run the risk of becoming definitive hosts, This means that the worms live inside the animal, mature into adulthood, mate and produce offspring.
This condition is called heartworm disease because the worms which cause it live primarily in the heart, blood vessels, and lungs of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
With heartworm disease, your pet will often not exhibit symptoms until the disease has become advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease are coughing, weight loss, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and a swollen abdomen.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet is able to complete blood tests which can detect proteins (also known as antigens) which heartworms release into your pet's bloodstream. However, these proteins are unable to be detected until at least 5 months after a pet is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It is important to remember that treatment for heartworm disease can come with serious complications of its own: it may be toxic to your pet's body. Treatment is expensive too since it requires multiple visits to your vet, hospitalization, x-rays, bloodwork and a series of injections. Because of this, prevention is absolutely your best bet for treating heartworm disease.
All of that being said, in the unfortunate even that your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, there are treatment options that they will have available to them. The FDA-approved drug melarsomine dihydrochloride contains arsenic. It will be administered through injection into your pet's back muscles as a way of treating the disease.
There are also topical FDA-approved treatment options available to you. When applied to your pet's skin, these medications will help to get rid of the parasites as well.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It is vital that you keep your pet on preventative medications in order to prevent heartworm disease. We recommend that even dogs who are currently taking heartworm medication be tested for them annually just in case.
It's important to keep your pet on preventative medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventative heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.
It is safer, much less expensive, and easier to prevent heartworm disease before it ever takes hold than to provide care for advanced stages of the disease. Often, heartworm medications will also serve to prevent other common parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms.