Heartworm disease is a serious condition with severe consequences such at heart failure, lung disease, organ damage or death in extreme cases. Our Brookhaven vets discuss the cause of heartworm disease in dogs and other pets as well as treatment and prevention.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.
Heartworm disease got its name because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet. Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets are able to become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
It is common for symptoms of heartworm disease to be unnoticeable until the disease is already in advanced stages. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How will my vet test for heartworms?
Your vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. If an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito it takes an average of five months in order for the heartworm proteins to be detected in the blood.
What should I do if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Heartworms are known to be difficult and expensive to treat as well as having the possibility of becoming toxic for your pet. The treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays and a series of injections. These are some reasons why prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
If your pet does happen to contract heartworms your pet will have various heart. 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 applied directly to the animal's skin and are used to help get rid of parasites in the bloodstream.
Can I prevent heartworm disease in my pet?
Ensuring that your pet is on preventive heartworm medication is the foremost way that you are able to protect your pet. Our vets also recommend having your pet tested annually for heartworms even if they are on a routine preventive medication schedule.
Heartworm in pets can be detrimental to your pet's health and even be potentially fatal, as well as costly to treat, ensuring adequate preventive measures are taken will save you from the stress of infection. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.