Heartworm disease is a very serious medical condition that may result in organ failure, severe lung disease, damage to internal organs and even death in dogs, cats and ferrets in the Liberty Lake area. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.
Pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets, may become what is called a definitive host. This means that the worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease since the worms live in the blood vessels, lungs and heart 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 veterinarian will be able to complete blood tests in order to detect heartworm proteins (also called antigens), that are released into your pet's bloodstream. These proteins are undetectable until at least 5 months from the day an animal is infected by a mosquito bite.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease, while existent, can cause serious complications of its own and may be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but the treatment can be quite expensive too! 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.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It's critical that you keep your pet on preventive medication in order to stop heartworm disease before it has a chance to affect your pet. 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 preventive treatments for heartworms can also help to protect your pet against other parasites, including whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.