Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis and is generally spread through mosquito bites.
Pets such as cats, dogs, and ferrets can become this parasite's definitive hosts, this means that the worms live inside the animal, where they mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. This dangerous condition is called heartworm disease because the worms reside in the lungs, heart, and blood vessels of the pets they infect.
Heartworm Disease Symptoms
Most of the time pets don't start displaying any symptoms of heartworm disease until the disease has advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease consist of coughing weight loss, swollen abdomen, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.
How Vets Test 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.
If Your Pet is Diagnosed with Heartworms
Remember, the treatments for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and could potentially be toxic to the body of your pet. Also, treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, X-rays, bloodwork, hospitalization, and a series of injections. This is why our vets say prevention is the absolute best way to treat heartworm disease.
However, if your cat or dog is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will be able to provide you with treatment options. 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 essential to keep your cat or dog on their preventive medication in order to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we suggest having your pet tested annually for heartworms.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier and much more affordable than treating the disease when it has progressed. A variety of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect your furry friend from other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.