Heartworm disease is a serious condition that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our Memphis vet explains why prevention is key.
What is heartworm?
Caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis, heartworm disease is spread through the bite of a mosquito.
Many animals, such as dogs, cats and ferrets can be 'definitive hosts' for heartworm. That means that the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring while living inside the animal. Heartworms get their name from the fact that they live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected animal.
What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease symptoms typically don’t show up until the disease has progressed severely, but may include coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, swollen abdomen, and weight loss.
How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests, done by your vet, can detect heartworm proteins called antigens, which are released into the pet's bloodstream.
Unfortunately, the earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected is about 5 months after an animal has become infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
The best treatment is prevention!
Treating heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to the dog’s body. Because treatment requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections it is also expensive.
There are treatment options available if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms. Your vet can help you choose which is right for your pet.
One arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms is melarsomine dihydrochloride. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is injected into the back muscles to treat dogs' heartworm disease.
Some topical FDA-approved solutions are available which can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied to the animal's skin.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
There are a number of medications available from your vet that can prevent your pet from getting heartworm disease.
Our Memphis vet recommends that dogs be tested for heartworms annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease!
A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help to protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.
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