What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused a parasite named dirogilaria immitis.
Pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets can become what is called a definitive host. This means that these parasites can live within your pet, mature and produce offspring. The serious condition they cause is called heartworm disease because these parasitic worms live in your pet's lungs, blood vessels, and heart.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the disease had reached an advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, weight loss, coughing, difficulty breathing and fatigue.
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 is important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease itself can come with serious complications and be possibly toxic to your pet's body. Not only this, but the treatment can be expensive. Heartworm disease's treatment generally involved multiple injection, blood work, hospitalization, x-rays and numerous veterinary visits.
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 very important to keep your pet on a course of preventative medication in order to avoid heartworm disease. Even if your pet is already on a course of preventative medication, however, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworm disease 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.