Heartworm disease commonly affects cats, dogs, and ferrets and is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. If your pet suffers from this condition it can cause severe complications and be potentially fatal. Today, our Snellville vets talk about the effects of heartworm disease on pets and how it can be prevented.
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 hosts for heartworms, 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 are some of the common symptoms of heartworm disease?
Unfortunately, the symptoms of heart disease don't typically begin to appear until the disease itself is well advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
How is heartworm disease in pets 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 are the treatment options for heartworm disease in pets?
The treatment for heartworms will depend on your pet as it varies between cats and dogs. 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 heartworms, your 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 have a fairly long lifespan and can live in dogs for 5-7 years while in cats typically only live for 2-3.
Are there ways to help prevent heartworm disease in pets?
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. The preventive medication for heartworm disease also has the ability to protect against a variety of other parasites as well.