Heartworm disease can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and death in pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets. Our Ajax and Pickering vets explain why, when it comes to Heartworm disease, prevention is far better than treatment.
What is heartworm disease?
Spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Pets can become 'definitive hosts' for heartworms after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Being a definitive host means that the worms grow into adults and produce offspring while living inside your pet.
The name heartworm comes from the fact that these parasites thrive within the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals.
What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
The symptoms of heartworm don’t show up until the disease has progressed severely. Symptoms of the progressing condition include fatigue, swollen abdomen, weight loss, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your veterinarian can do blood tests to screen your pet for heartworm disease. If heartworms are present, your vet will be able to detect proteins called antigens, in your pet's blood.
The earliest that your veterinarian will be able to detect heartworm antigens in your pet's blood is approximately five months after your pet has been infected.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Prevention of heartworm disease is always better than treatment.
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, there are treatment options available. However, the treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic. Heartworm treatment is expensive because your pet will require multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.
Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms in pets. The drug is injected into the pet's back muscles to treat the condition.
There are also topical FDA-approved solutions available from your vet which, when applied to your pet's skin, can help to get rid of the parasites in your pet's bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
Our Pickering and Ajax vets typically recommend that dogs be tested for heartworm annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.
To protect your pet from heartworm, preventive medication is available from your vet. Preventing heartworm disease is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating an infected pet!
An added benefit of preventive medications is that they can also protect your pet against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms