Heartworm disease results in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and even death in pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is far better than treatment when it comes to this serious condition.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.
If your pet is bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will mature into adults, mate and produce offspring while living inside your pet's heart, lungs and blood vessels.
What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease include coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, swollen abdomen, and weight loss. However, these symptoms will not appear until the disease has progressed severely. There are no obvious early symptoms of heartworms.
How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests, done by your vet, can detect proteins released by heartworms in your pet's bloodstream.
The earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected in an animal's bloodstream is about 5 months after the pet has become infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Our vets can't stress enough that, when it comes to heartworm disease, prevention is far better than treatment.
That said, there are treatment options available if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms. Your vet can help you choose which is right for your pet.
Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in pets. This drug is injected into the pet's back muscles to treat heartworms.
Topical FDA-approved solutions that are applied to your pet's skin, are also available to help to kill parasites in your pet's bloodstream.
Treatment for heartworm can cause serious complications for your pet's health and can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body.
It's also important to note that, because treatment requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections treatment of heartworm is expensive.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease
Heartworm prevention medications are available from your vet, and are part of many Wellness Plans.
Annual blood tests to check for heartworm are recommended for all dogs, even if your pet is already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease and may also protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.