What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito.
A pet (mainly dogs, cats and ferrets) is the definitive host, meaning that the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring while living inside the animal.
The worms are called heartworms because they live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected animal.
though heartworms can cause significant damage, they are difficult to detect without a vet's help. This is why pet parents need to keep a close eye out for symptoms, be proactive in prevention and take action quickly if they spot signs that their pet is infected.
What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
Until heartworm disease has progressed to severe stages, symptoms don't typically appear. These may include difficulty breathing, coughing, weight loss, a swollen abdomen and fatigue.
How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?
To test for heartworms, your vet will perform blood tests to check for proteins (called antigens), which are released into your pet's bloodstream by heartworms.
Heartworm proteins can be detected about 5 months after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Unfortunately, treatment for heartworm disease can be toxic to your dog's body and may cause serious complications. This treatment is also expensive and requires multiple visits to the vet for bloodwork, injections, x-rays and hospitalization. That's why, when it comes to heartworm disease, the best treatment is prevention!
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet can help you choose the best treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is one option. It contains arsenic and is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to kill adult heartworms. Your vet will administer this treatment via injection into the back muscles to treat heartworm disease in dogs.
FDA-approved topical solutions approved are another option that can be applied to your pet's skin to help eliminate parasites in the bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
Protect your pet from heartworm disease by using heartworm prevention medications available from your vet.
Dogs should be tested annually for heartworms, even if they're already taking preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and much more affordable than treating the disease in its more progressive stages. A number of heartworm prevention medications also help protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.