Heartworm disease is a serious condition that is found in animals such as cats and dogs and could cause complications such as heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to organs or could be fatal. Our vets in Gardena discuss what heartworm disease is and how to prevent it.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is most commonly transmitted through most mosquito bites and is caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
These parasites prefer to choose mammals as their preferred hosts, where they live within the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. Heartworm disease has its name due to the parasites living in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
The signs of heartworm disease don't usually become prominent until the disease is further along. Some of the most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How is my pet tested for heartworms?
Your vet will conduct testing for heartworm proteins (antigens). These proteins are released into the animal's bloodstream after infection. It takes roughly 5 months for the heartworm protein to be present within the bloodstream after infection.
What to do if my pet is diagnosed?
Keep in mind that treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and 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.
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.
Can I prevent my pet from getting heart 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.