Heartworms are parasites that can inflict irreparable damage to the internal function of infected creatures. Heart failure, lung disease, and even death are common outcomes of heartworms finding a way to squirm into Medford pets. Fortunately, there are very effective preventive treatments - today the vets at Siskiyou Veterinary Hospital discuss the what, how, and why of heartworm disease.
Heartworm, Dirofilaria Immitis by Another Name
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 definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. The eponymous worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels
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.
Your vet can diagnose a heartworm infestation using complete blood tests that 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. This presents a problem, as often by the time heartworms are detectable, the Dirofilaria Immitis have already dealt irreparable damage.
Treating Heartworms in Dogs and Cats
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.
Preventing Heartworm in the First Place
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. A number of heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.