In Westfield, heartworm disease is a serious condition that can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, organ damage, and even death in pets. Cats, dogs, and ferrets are the most common carriers of the disease. Our veterinarians explain why prevention is so important.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread by mosquito bites and is caused primarily by a parasitic worm known as dirofilaria immitis.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets can become definitive hosts, which means that worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. Because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet, we call this serious condition heartworm disease.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
For the most part, patients with heartworm disease have no symptoms until the disease has progressed to a severe stage. Coughing, fatigue, and weight loss are all signs of heartworm disease. A swollen abdomen is also a common symptom.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests can be performed by your veterinarian to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins are not detectable in an animal for approximately five months (at the earliest) after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?
Remember that heartworm treatment can have serious side effects and be toxic to your pet. Not only that, but treatment is costly due to multiple vet visits, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and injections. That's why we say heartworm disease prevention is the best treatment.
However, if your pet has heartworms, your vet has treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug. Adult heartworms die. The disease is treated by injecting melarsomine dihydrochloride into your pet's back muscles.
The FDA has approved topical solutions. When applied directly to the animal's skin, they help kill parasites in the bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
To avoid heartworm disease, it's critical to keep your pet on preventive medication. We recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms every year, even if they are already on heartworm prevention medication.
Heartworm prevention is much safer, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease once it has progressed. Other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms can be protected by a number of heartworm preventive medications.