Heartworm disease is a very serious condition that may result in lung disease, damage to internal organs, and heart failure in dogs, cats and ferrets in the Villa Rica area. Here, our vets explain why prevention is so important when it comes to this condition.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets, may become what is called a definitive host. This means that the worms live inside your pet, mature into an adult, mate, produce offspring and then start the whole process over again. This serious condition is called heartworm disease since these parasites live in an animal's blood vessels, lungs and heart.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
The symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the illness has reached a much more advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and notable difficulty with 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 to remember that that treatment for heartworm disease itself may cause complications and potentially even be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment for heartworm disease is quite expensive since it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, hospitalization, bloodwork, X-rays and a series of injections. Because of this, we say that prevention is the best treatment for heartworm disease.
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.
There are also topically-applied and FDA-approved treatments. These help to eliminate the parasites when they are directly applied to your pet'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.