Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can cause lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in your pet's body. This disease is most often found in dogs, cats and ferrets and can sometimes even result in death for your companion. Here, the vets at our Astoria clinic explain why prevention is so important
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 may become what is called a definitive host, meaning that the worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. It is referred to as heartworm disease because the parasitic worms that cause it live in your pet's heart, blood vessels and lungs.
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 can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important that you know the treatment for heartworm disease can itself cause a number of complications or even be toxic to your pet's body. Treatment is also quite expensive since it requires multiple injections, x-rays, hospitalizations and blood tests. Because of this, we firmly believe that the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease is preventing it before it can ever impact your pet.
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 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.