Heartworm disease is a serious condition seen in pets that is spread through mosquito bites and can result in organ failure and potentially death if untreated. In this blog, our Toledo vets discuss the reasons why it's essential to prevent your pet from getting heartworm disease.
What's Heartworm Disease?
Mosquitos transmit Heartworm disease through their bite and this condition is primarily caused by a parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria immitis.
Animals such as ferrets, cats, and dogs can become the host of heartworms, this means that these parasitic worms live, mate, and produce offspring within the pet's body. People call this condition heartworm disease because the worms reside in the blood vessels, lungs, and heart of the animals they infect.
Signs & Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
If your pet is infected they probably won't start exhibiting symptoms until the disease has become more advanced. The most common symptoms include fatigue, coughing, weight loss, difficulty breathing, and a swollen abdomen.
How Vets Check Your Pet for Heartworm
Your vet will be able to conduct blood tests to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into the pet's bloodstream. However, your vet won't be able to detect any Heartworm proteins until approximately five months (at the earliest) after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
Treating Cats & Dogs with Heartworm
The treatments used to treat heartworm disease are different between cats and dogs. It often takes a long time to treat heartworm, and the treatments themselves are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for your animal companion, and expensive for you. For this reason, our veterinary team always expresses that prevention is the best way to treat heartworm disease.
If your cat or dog has been diagnosed with heartworm disease your veterinarian will explain to you the treatment options that they have available. 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.
How to Protect Your Pet from Heartworm
It's imperative that you make sure your pet stays up to date with their prevention medication so they can stay protected against heartworm disease. We also suggest having your pet tested for heartworms every year, even if they are already on preventive medications.
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.