Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can lead to heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to other organs and even death for pets in Santa Clarita. The condition is generally seen in cats, dogs and ferrets. In today's post, our vets explain why prevention is key.
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.
Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets may become definitive hosts, which means that the parasites live inside of the animal, where they will mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected animal.
What are the signs of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease, unfortunately, don't appear until the disease has reached its advanced stages. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, breathing difficulties, coughing, fatigue, and weight loss.
How will my vet check 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 your pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What is the treatment for heartworms?
Pet parents need to be aware that the treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays and a series of injections. This is why our vets believe that prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
Nonetheless, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic and is used to kill adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride will be administered via injection into your pet's back muscles to treat the disease.
Topical FDA-approved solutions which are applied to the pet's skin are also available to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream.
How can heartworm disease be prevented?
Keep your pet on preventive medication to protect your animal against heartworm disease. 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. An added bonus of these preventive medications is that many can also help protect your pet against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.