Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Heartworm disease is a serious condition in pets which can cause heart failure, damage to organs like your lungs, as well as death. This disease is most often found in cats, dogs and ferrets in Simi Valley. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key.

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis. 

Pets like cats, dogs and ferrets can become what is called a definitive host. This means that the worms live inside the animal, grow to adulthood, mate and then produce more offspring. This serious condition is referred to as heartworm disease because the parasitic worms live in your pet's heart, blood vessels and lungs.

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 can complete a blood test in order to detect heartworm antigens (or proteins), which the parasites release into your pet's blood stream.  However,  heartworm antigens can't be detected until at least 5 months after your pet was infected by a 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, as a rule, safer, easier and much less expensive than treating the progressed disease. A number of different heartworm medications can even help to protect your pet against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.

Is your pet exhibiting signs of heartworm disease? Our vets have experiencing in diagnosing and treating many common illnesses and conditions. Book an appointment at Park Animal Hospital today.