Heartworm disease is a parasitic infection that is transmitted to pets through the bite of an infected mosquito. If left untreated, heartworm disease is a serious condition that has the potential to be fatal. Today, our Cumming vets discuss the symptoms of heartworm disease and how it can be prevented.
Heartworm Disease: What is it?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.
Pets including dogs, cats, and ferrets may become heartworm hosts, meaning the parasitic worms live, mate, and produce offspring in the animal's body. The illness is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What Symptoms Of Heartworm Disease Will My Pet Experience?
Unfortunately, the common symptoms of heartworm disease in pets are not typically noted until the disease is already fairly advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
How Is Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?
Your vet 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 Is The Next Step If My Pet Has Been Diagnosed With Heartworm Disease?
The treatment for heartworm disease will be different depending on whether you have a cat or a dog. Heartworm treatment is often lengthy, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous for your pet—and expensive for you. This is why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, your Cumming vet will discuss potential treatment options with you. For dogs, an FDA-approved medication (melarsomine dihydrochloride), which contains arsenic, will be given via a series of injections into your dog's back muscles. This treatment option is toxic to cats so your vet will discuss alternative therapies with you.
Heartworms can live in dogs for 5-7 years while cats typically only live for 2-3.
What Preventive Measures Can I Take To Protect My Pet?
It's essential 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. Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.