Heartworm disease is a dangerous condition that is most commonly found in cats, dogs, and ferrets. It can lead to severe health problems such as lung damage, heart failure, and serious damage to other organs in your pet's body. In this blog, our Santa Cruz vets explain why heartworm prevention is essential.
Heartworm disease is transmitted when a mosquito carrying a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis bites an animal.
Animals such as ferrets, cats, and dogs are at risk of becoming the hosts of these parasites, which means that they live inside your pet, where they 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 the pets they infect.
The Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
Infected animals usually don't start displaying symptoms until the disease becomes more advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
How Your Vet Will Check Your Pet for Heartworms
Your vet is able to conduct blood tests to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the bloodstream of infected pets. Your veterinarian won't be able to find any heartworm proteins until approximately five months (at the earliest) after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What Happens When Your Pet is Diagnosed with Heartworms
Remember that the treatments for heartworm disease could cause serious complications and can be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Treatments are also very expensive because it requires multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, hospitalization, X-rays and a series of injections. This makes prevention the absolute best treatment option for heartworm disease.
Although, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, your vet will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic and 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 get rid of any parasites in the bloodstream when applied directly to the animal's skin.
Preventing Your Pet From Getting Heartworms
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 having your dog tested for heartworms at least once a year.
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.