Heartworm is a serious disease that can result in heart failure, severe lung disease, organ damage and even death for pets in Orlando. Heartworm disease can be found in cats, dogs, ferrets and other animals. Here, our vets explain why prevention is essential.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Dogs, cats and ferrets and other pets may become definitive hosts, meaning that ticks live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. Heartworm disease gets it's name because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease unfortunately don't appear until the disease is advanced. The most common signs of heartworm disease in pets include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How is heartworm diagnosed?
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 an animal has become infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment tends to be 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, your vet will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic which can be used to 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 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?
Keeping your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease is strongly recommended. Even if they are 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. An added bonus is that a number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.