Heartworm disease is a dangerous condition that can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, organ damage, and even death in Beacon pets. Cats, dogs, and ferrets are the most commonly affected. Our veterinarians explain the importance of prevention in this blog post.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease spreads via mosquito bites and manifests by a parasitic worm known as dirofilaria immitis.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets can become hosts. This means the worm lives inside the animal, matures into an adult, mates, and produces offspring. Because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet, we call this serious condition heartworm disease.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms usually do not appear until the disease progresses to an advanced state. Swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of heartworm disease.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your veterinarian can perform blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) released into your pet's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins are not detectable until about five months (at the earliest) after an infected mosquito bites your dog.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?
Keep in mind that heartworm disease treatment can have serious side effects and can be toxic to your pet's body. Treatment is also costly because it requires multiple veterinarian visits, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and a series of injections. In the case of heartworm disease, prevention is the best treatment.
However, if diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian will be able to provide treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride, an arsenic-containing medication, is approved by the FDA. Adult heartworms are killed using this method. In order to treat your pet's disease, melarsomine dihydrochloride will be injected into your pet's back muscles.
Also available are FDA-approved topical solutions. When applied directly to the animal's skin, these can help to eliminate parasites in the bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
To avoid heartworm disease, make sure your pet is on preventive medication. Annual heartworm testing for dogs is also recommended, even if they are already taking a preventive heartworm medication.
It's far safer, easier, and less expensive to prevent heartworm disease than to treat it afterward. Several heartworm-preventive drugs can also help protect against other parasites, such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.