Heartworm disease is a serious condition which can cause lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs which can result in death for pets in Berkeley. The disease is typically found in cats, dogs and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets like dogs, cats and ferrets can become what is called a definitive hosts, meaning that the worms live their full lifecycle inside the animal. They mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. This serious conditions is called heartworm disease because worms live in the heart, blood vessels, and lungs of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don't appear until the disease is 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 vet can conduct tests on your pet's blood to detect heartworm proteins (otherwise known as antigens) which are released into your pet's bloodstream. It takes at least five months after being bitten by an infected mosquito before these proteins are detectable.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Keep in mind that treatment for heartworm disease may 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 veterinarian, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays and a series of injections. This is why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, they will have treatment options available for you. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an FDA-approved 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.
There are also FDA-approved topical solutions you can use to treat your pet. These, when applied to your pet's skin, can help get ride of parasites in their bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It's key to keep your pet on preventative medication in order to avoid heartworm disease. Even if your pet is already on heartworm medication, you can also get them checked for the parasite annually.
When it comes to heartworms, prevention is safer, easier and less expensive than treating the disease in its advanced stages. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.