Heartworm disease is a serious condition that may result in damage to their internal organs, including heart failure and severe lung disease in Los Angeles dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our Ambassador Dog & Cat Hospital team explains why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is primarily spread through mosquito bites and is caused by a parasitic work called dirogilaria immitis.
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 only appear when the disease has reached a much more advanced stage. Some of the most common symptoms of heartworms include coughing, fatigue, weight loss, a swollen abdomen 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?
It's important to remember that while there are treatments for heartworm disease, the medications used can cause complications and potentially be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is expensive and requires multiple visits to the veterinarians, hospitalization, a series of injections, bloodwork and x-rays and more. Because of this, we say prevention is absolutely the 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.
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.