What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets may become definitive hosts, meaning that the 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 the infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Unfortunately, symptoms of heartworm disease don't appear until the disease is fairly advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your veterinarian can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins cannot be detected until at least five months after the pet has become infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important for pet parents to know that treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to the pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays and a series of injections. That's why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms there are some 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.
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 your pet is 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 have the added benefit of protecting against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.