Heartworm disease is a serious condition which can cause organ damage, lung disease, heart failure and even death in pets across Riverside County. This condition is usually found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention of this condition is so critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets, including ferrets, cats and dogs, may become what is called a definitive host. This means that heartworms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring. The condition is called heartworm disease since the worms live in the heart, blood vessels and lungs of the infected pet.
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 is capable of conducting blood tests in order to detect heartworm proteins (also known as antigens) which are released into an animal's blood stream. These proteins aren't detectable until at least 5 months after your pet is infected by a mosquito though.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease can actually cause serious complications and be toxic to your pet's body all on its own. Not only that, but treatment can be expensive and require multiple hospitalizations, injections, x-rays and more. Because of this, the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
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 much safer, easier and less expensive than treating the progressed disease. A number of different preventative medications for heartworm disease can also help to protect against other dangerous parasites like whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.