Heartworm disease is a serious disease that can result in heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to other organs, and loss of life in pets. Today, our Smyrna vets explain why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis that is spread through mosquito bites. It primarily affects dogs, cats, and ferrets.
Infected pets may become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. The worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected animal and have a detrimental effect on your pet's major internal systems.
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 heartworm?
Heartworm is treated by melarsomine dihydrochloride, an FDA-approved drug that contains arsenic that is administered via injection into your pet's back muscles.
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.
Treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, X-rays, and a series of injections. This is why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
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.