Heartworm disease is a life-threatening condition that can result in heart failure, severe lung disease, and damage to other vital organs for pets in Franklin. This serious disease is typically found in cats, dogs and ferrets. Today, our vets explain why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through the bite of infected mosquitos and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets may become 'definitive hosts', meaning that these parasitic worms live inside the animal where they mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. The condition is called heartworm disease because the worms typically live in the infected animal's heart, lungs and blood vessels.
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 vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
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. Which is why our vets stress that prevention is far better than treatment when it comes to 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 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.