Heartworm disease is a very serious condition that may result in severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs in their body and even death for pets in the Tucson area. Here, our vets explain why prevention in dogs and cats is key.
What is heartworm disease?
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 what is called a definitive host, meaning that the worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm because the worms live in the blood vessels, lungs and heart of an infected animal.
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 will be able to conduct blood testing to detect heartworm proteins (called antigens) which are released into the bloodstream of your pet. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until 5 months after their initial infection at the absolute earliest.
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.
That said, 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?
It's critical that you keep your pet on preventive medication in order to prevent heartworm disease from developing in your cat or dog. Even if your pet is already on preventive medication, we advise that you treat animals that regularly go outside for heartworm every year.
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.