Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to other organs and even death for pets in Charlotte. 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 via mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Pets including dogs, cats, and ferrets may become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults and reproduce. We call this serious condition heartworm disease 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 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 do vets check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet can conduct blood tests to detect whether heartworm proteins (antigens) are in 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 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.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have multiple treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic, which 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?
It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. 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. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.