What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets like dogs and cats may become what is called definitive hosts for heartworms. This means that the parasites live inside their body, mature into adults, are able to reproduce and start the cycle all over again. 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 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 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?
It's important to keep in mind that the treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications itself and potentially even be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is expensive. Heartworm treatment requires multiple veterinary visits, injections, bloodwork tests, X-rays. hospitalization and more. Because of this, we say prevention is absolutely the best treatment for heartworm disease.
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 that you keep your pet safe by maintaining preventive treatment and medications. Even if your pet is already on heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested annually for the parasites.
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.