Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Heartworm disease is a life-threatening condition that can involve heart failure, severe lung disease, and damage to other organs for pets in Tracy. In today's post our vets explain why prevention is key.

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis which is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. 

Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets may become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, where they 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?

Symptoms of heartworm disease, unfortunately, do not appear until the disease is advanced. The most common symptoms of this condition 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 can't be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?

Treatment for heartworm disease can be potentially toxic to your pet's body and may cause serious health complications for your pet. Not only that, but treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays and a series of injections. This is why preventing heartworm disease is far better for your pet than treating the advanced disease. 

Nonetheless, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have 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.

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?

Keep your pet on preventive medication whenever mosquitos are active in order to help prevent heartworm disease (speak to your vet about the best months to have your pet on heartworm prevention medications). Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms every year. 

Heartworm prevention is safer, easier and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease! Not only that, the added bonus of these medications is that many will also protect your pet against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.

Is your pet exhibiting signs of heartworm disease? Our vets are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of many common illnesses and conditions. Book an appointment at Paws & Claws Veterinary Hospital today.