Heartworm disease is a dangerous condition often seen in cats, dogs, and ferrets. It can lead to severe, lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and potentially death. Here, our Lancaster vets explain more about the severity of heartworm disease and why prevention is critical.
Heartworm disease spreads when an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito and is most often caused by dirogilaria immitis which is a parasitic worm.
Pets such as ferrets, dogs, and cats can become the hosts of these parasites. This means that the worms live inside them where they mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms reside in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected animal.
The Signs & 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 Vets Test Pets for Heartworms
Your vet is able to implement blood tests to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into the bloodstream of an infected pet. However, they won't be able to find any heartworm proteins until at least five months (at the earliest) after a pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
When Your Pet is Diagnosed with Heartworm Disease
Keep in mind that treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet'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.
Preventing Heartworm Disease
It's very important that your pet stays on preventive medication in order to prevent heartworm disease. Even if your cat or dog is already on preventive heartworm medication, we still highly suggest having them tested for heartworms once a year.
Heartworm prevention is easier, safer, and more affordable than treating the condition when it has progressed. Many heartworm prevention medications could also help guard your pet against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.