Heartworm disease is a severe condition commonly found in dogs, ferrets, and cats. It can lead to a range of serious potentially deadly conditions such as severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in a pet's body. In this blog, our Los Angeles vets shed light on this serious disease and explain the importance of prevention.
Heartworm disease is a condition that is most commonly spread through mosquito bites and is usually caused by a parasite known as dirogilaria immitis.
The pets that most often become the hosts of these parasitic worms are cats, dogs, and ferrets. Heartworms will reside in the animals they infect where they grow into adults, mate, and reproduce offspring. Veterinarians consider heartworm disease a serious condition because the heartworms make their home in the blood vessels, lungs, and heart of the animals they infect.
The Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
Pets usually don't display any heartworm symptoms until the disease has developed into its more advanced stages. The symptoms of heartworm disease most often seen by our veterinarians include coughing, swollen abdomen, weight loss, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
How Vets Diagnose Heartworm Disease in Pets
Your vet will be able to conduct a series of blood tests to find any heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into the bloodstream of infected animals. Heartworm proteins can't be found until approximately five months (at the earliest) after a cat or dog is bitten by an infected mosquito.
Treating Heartworm Disease in Cats and Dogs
Please note that heartworm disease treatment can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your cat or dog's body. Not only that, but treatment is also expensive because 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 to Protect Your Pet From Heartworms
It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. 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 heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.