Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, organ damage, and even death in Fort Oglethorpe pets. Cats, dogs, and ferrets are the most common carriers of the disease. Our veterinarians explain why prevention is so important.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets can become definitive hosts, which means that worms live inside the animal, mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. Because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet, we call this serious condition heartworm disease.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease symptoms usually do not appear until the disease has progressed. Swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of heartworm disease.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests can be performed by your veterinarian to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) that are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins are not detectable until approximately five months (at the most) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?
Keep in mind that heartworm disease treatment can lead to serious complications and is potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment is costly because it necessitates multiple veterinarian visits, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and a series of injections. This is why we believe that the best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian will have treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that has been approved by the FDA. Adult heartworms are killed by it. In order to treat the disease, melarsomine dihydrochloride will be injected into your pet's back muscles.
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?
To prevent heartworm disease, it is critical to keep your pet on preventive medication. We recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is much safer, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease once it has progressed. A variety of heartworm prevention medications can also help protect against other parasites like hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.