Heartworm disease can have serious effects on cats and dogs. Symptoms may result in heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to organs and even death. Here, our the Pacific Northwest vets explain why prevention is critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and primarily caused by the parasitic worm dirogilaria immitis.
Our beloved pets can become definitive hosts and harbor these parasites that then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is referred to as heartworm disease since the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Usually, symptoms of heartworm disease will only become visible once the condition has advanced. Common symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, coughing, weight loss and swollen abdomen.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests can be performed at your vet's office to check for heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. However, these proteins won't be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after a bite from an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Your pet may experience serious health complications as a result of heartworm disease, but the treatment can also be potentially toxic. In addition, treatment is costly since it requires multiple visits to the vet, hospitalization, bloodwork, and a series of x-rays and injections. This is why we always tell our clients that the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, treatment options are available. Your vet may use FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride - a drug that kills adult heartworms with arsenic. To treat the disease, your vet will inject melarsomine dihydrochloride into your pet's back muscles.
Topical FDA-approved solutions may be another option. Applied directly to your pet's skin, they can help eliminate parasites in the bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
Preventive treatments and medication for heartworm disease are essential to your pet's health, so ensure these are kept up to date. We also advise our clients to have dogs tested for heartworms annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.
Preventing heartworm disease is easier, safer and much more affordable than treating the disease when it's advanced in your pet's body. Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.