Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Heartworm disease is a serious conditions which can result in lung disease, damage to organs and heart failure for pets in Wake Forest.  The disease is typically found in dogs, cats 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 dirogilaria immitis. 

Pets including dogs, cats and ferrets can become definitive hosts, meaning that these parasites can live their full lifecycle inside their bodies. The worms will mature into adults, mate, and then have offspring. 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 generally don't appear until the disease in in a more advanced state. The most common symptoms are a swollen abdomen, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing and coughing. 

How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?

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 if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?

Bear in mind that treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be possibly toxic to your pet's body. Treatment is also expensive because it involves multiple trips to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, and hospitalizations.  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. 

Prevention of heartworm disease is much safer, affordable and easier than treating it in tis advanced state. A number of heart worm preventative medication can also help prevent other parasites from living in your pet such as roundworms, whipworms and hookworms.  

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 North Wake Animal Hospital today.