Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can cause organ failure, lung diseases and even heart failure and death for pets across Santa Cruz County. This disease is generally found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our veterinary team explains why prevention is so important for this dangerous condition.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm call dirogilaria immitis which is spread through mosquito bites.
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?
Heartworm disease's symptoms generally don't appear until the disease is at an advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease can range from a swollen abdomen to weight loss, fatigue coughing and general 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?
It's important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease can cause significant complications and even be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is often expensive. It requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, hospitalizations, x-rays, bloodwork and a series of injections. Because of this, we say that 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.
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.
Preventing heartworm disease is much safer, easier and more affordable than treating this disease in its progressed stage. A number of different heartworm preventative medications can also help to protect your pet against other parasites like hookworms, roundworms and whipworms.