Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

For pets in Austell, heartworm disease is a serious condition that can result in heart failure, severe lung disease, damage to other organs, and even death. The disease is typically found in cats, dogs, and ferrets. 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 Dirofilaria immitis

Pets like dogs, cats, and ferrets may become definitive hosts, which means that the worms live inside them. They mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring all within your pet's internal organs. We call this serious condition heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet. 

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

Symptoms of heartworm disease are unlikely to appear until the disease has advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. 

How does my vet check my pet for heartworm?

Your vet can complete blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into your pet's bloodstream. The earliest that heartworm proteins can be detected is about five months after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?

Prevention is the absolute best since treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, hospitalization, X-rays and a series of injections. 

If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have treatment options available. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic and is used to kill adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride can be administered via injection into your pet's back muscles in order to treat heartworm 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 prohibit 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 disease when it has progressed. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites, such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms.

Is your pet exhibiting signs of heartworm disease? Our vets have experience diagnosing and treating many common illnesses and conditions, including heartworm disease. Book an appointment at Bullard Animal Hospital today.