The serious condition known as heartworm disease can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs and even death for pets in Cincinnati. This disease is typically found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Spread through mosquito bites, heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm referred to as Dirofilaria immitis.
Pets including cats, dogs and ferrets can become definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside an animal before maturing into adults, mating and producing offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease since the worms live in the heart, blood vessels and lungs of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Typically, heartworm disease will become fairly advanced before symptoms appear. The most common signs of heartworm disease include coughing, weight loss, fatigue, difficulty breathing and a swollen abdomen.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) that are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until approximately five months (at the earliest) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
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 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.