Heartworm disease is a health condition that could be potentially life-threatening to your pet. It is often most found in cats, dogs, and ferrets and could lead to serious health problems such as severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs. In this blog our Groton vets discuss how you can help prevent your pet from developing this dangerous disease.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is transmitted when your pet is bitten by a mosquito that is carrying a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Cats, dogs, and ferrets are the pets that most frequently become the hosts of these worms. This type of parasite will live inside the animals they infect, then mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. This dangerous condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected pets.
What are the signs of heartworm disease?
Your pet usually won't show any symptoms of heartworm disease until the condition advances. The most common signs of heartworm disease include fatigue, coughing, swollen abdomen, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
How do vets test pets for heartworms?
Your vet will be able to conduct blood tests to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into a pet's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins usually can't be found until approximately five months (at the earliest) after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What will happen if my cat or dog 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. This is why we say 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.
What are some ways I can prevent my pet from developing heartworm disease?
You need to keep your cat or dog on their preventive medication in order to keep them safe from heartworm disease. Even if your pet is already taking preventive heartworm medication, we highly suggest having your cat or dog tested for heartworms every year.
It's safer, easier, and more affordable to prevent heartworms than it is to treat the disease when it has progressed. There are also a handful of heartworm preventive medications that can help protect your pet from other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.