Heartworm disease is a very dangerous condition and a serious threat to the health of cats and dogs because it can lead to severe heart failure, lung disease, and damage to other organs. Here, our Grass Valley vets share what heartworm disease is and why prevention is important.
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria immitis, and it is transmitted through bites from an infected mosquito.
The pets that are most often infected include dogs, cats, and ferrets who can become definitive hosts of these parasites. This means that the worms live inside them where they, mature into adults, mate, and have offspring. This dangerous condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals.
The Signs & Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
If your pet has become infected they probably won't show any symptoms until their condition has become more advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease are fatigue, swollen abdomen, weight loss, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
How Vets Diagnose Heartworm Disease
Your vet will be able to conduct blood tests which should be able to find heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into a pet's bloodstream. Your vet won't be able to detect Heartworm proteins until approximately five months after your pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito (at the earliest).
What Happens When Your Pet's Diagnosed with Heartworms
You have to know that the treatment for heartworm disease could cause serious complications and is potentially toxic to your cat or dog's body. Also, treatment is very expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, X-rays, and a series of injections. This makes prevention the best possible treatment for heartworm disease.
But, if your furry friend 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 to Protect Your Pet From Heartworms
It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if your cat or dog is already taking preventive heartworm medication, we still suggest having them 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.