Heartworm disease is a condition that can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs, and even death for pets. This disease is usually found in ferrets, dogs, and cats. Here, our Kent vets explain the importance of prevention.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis and is spread through mosquito bites.
Pets including cats, dogs, and ferrets may become something called definitive hosts. This means that the worms can live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. We call this condition heartworm disease because the parasites lie in the blood vessels, lungs, and heart of an infected animal.
What Are Heartworm Disease's Symptoms?
Heartworm disease symptoms don't usually appear until the disease was in an advanced stage. Heartworm disease's symptoms most often include a swollen abdomen, fatigue, coughing, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
How Does My Vet Check For Heartworms?
Blood tests performed by your vet can detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which the worms release into the animal's blood. Heartworm proteins can't be detected by these kinds of tests before 5 months after an animal is infected by a mosquito bite.
My Pet Has Been Diagnosed With Heartworm. What Next?
Unfortunately, treatment for heartworm disease can be potentially harmful or toxic to your pet's body. The treatment can also be expensive. It requires multiple visits to your vet, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and a series of injections. Because of this, prevention is the best treatment for heartworm disease.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworm, your vet will have options for treatment available. The FDA-approved drug melarsomine dihydrochloride kills adult heartworms but contains arsenic. It will be administered by injection into your pet's back muscles to treat the disease.
Topical FDA-approved medications are also available for treatment. These solutions, when applied directly to the animal's skin, can help to get rid of the parasites in an animal's bloodstream.
How Can I Prevent My Pet From Getting Heartworm Disease?
Keeping your pet on a preventative medication to prevent heartworm disease is very important. However, even if your pet is already taking preventative heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested annually.
Preventing heartworm disease is much more affordable, safer, and easier than treating the disease once it has progressed. Many heartworm medications can also help in protecting pets against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.