Heartworm disease is an extremely serious condition that is spread by the bite of infected mosquitos. Typically, fatal once detectable symptoms occur, this condition can easily be prevented. Our Citrus Heights vets explain more about symptoms of heartworm and how to protect your pet.
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 definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal where they mature into adults, mate then produces offspring. We call this serious condition heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Signs of heartworm disease do not typically appear until the disease is fairly advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and breathing difficulties.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
To check for heartworms your vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. Unfortunately, heartworm proteins can not be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after an animal has become infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
The treatments currently available for pets with heartworm disease may lead to serious complications and can 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.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms there are treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride contains arsenic and can be used to help kill adult heartworms living in your pet. This drug 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?
Our vets always prefer prevention to treatment, and this is especially true when it comes to heartworms. To protect your beloved pet against this parasite it's important to keep your animal companion on preventive medications either year-round or during mosquito season. Even if your pets 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.