Heartworm disease is a serious condition in dogs that is caused by parasitic worms. It is difficult to treat and can result in heart failure, severe damage to the lungs and other organs, and death in some cases. Today, our Charlotte vets explain why prevention is the best protection.
What is heartworm disease?
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 hosts for the parasite. This means that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring in the animal's heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet.
Heartworms can live for between 5-7 years in a dog's internal systems.
What are the signs of heartworm in dogs?
Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don’t show up until the disease has progressed severely, and may include a persistent dry cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, weight loss and a swollen abdomen.
How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?
To test for heartworms, your vet will do blood tests to look for proteins, called antigens, which are released into the pet's bloodstream by the heartworms.
Heartworm proteins can be detected approximately 5 months after the animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease?
Unfortunately, the treatment for heartworm disease can be difficult on your dog's body and can cause some serious side effects. This is why heartworm prevention is so vital.
Treatment for heartworm in dogs involves a series of injections into the dog's back of a medication called Melarsomine dihydrochloride, an arsenic-containing drug that kills adult heartworms.
The treatment for heartworm disease is not easy on the dog or on the owner’s pocketbook. Multiple trips to the vet are required for both testing and treatment and the treatment can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body, causing complications, such as life-threatening blood clots to the dog’s lungs.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
Heartworm prevention medications available from your vet, are the best way to protect your pet from the disease. There are a range of preventive options, including injectable, oral, or topical solutions. Dogs should be tested for heartworms annually, even if they're already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease. A number of heartworm preventive medications also help to protect your pet against other parasites such as whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.