Heartworm disease is a serious condition that may result in heart failure, damage to other organs like lung disease and even death for pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets in the Goleta area. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key when it comes to heartworms.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis and is spread through the bites of infected mosquitos.
Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets may become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. We call this serious condition heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
The symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The most common symptom sof heartworm disease can include coughing, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing and a swollen abdomen.
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?
It's important to remember that treatments for heartworm disease may cause serious complications for your pet's health and potentially even be toxic for their body. Not only this, but treatment can also be quite expensive. Treatment for heartworm disease typically will involve hospitalization, a series of injections, x-rays, bloodwork and many veterinary visits. Because of all of this, we firmly believe that prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease in dogs.
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 disease prevention is easier, safer and much more affordable than treatment for the disease once it reaches its advanced stage. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help to protect against other parasites like whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.