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 ticks live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce 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?
Symptoms of heartworm disease will often not appear until the disease in an advanced stage, generally around 5 months after your pet is bitten by an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease are coughing, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing and a swollen abdomen.
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?
Keep in mind that the treatment for heartworm disease, once your pet has already been infected with it, can be very hard on their bodies (and potentially even toxic). Not just that, but treatment can get quite expensive as well. Treating heartworm disease requires multiple veterinary visits, injections, hospitalizations, x-rays and bloodwork. Because of this, we say that prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm.
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 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.