Heartworm disease is a dangerous condition which can cause severe lung disease, damage to your organs and even death for pets in Ocala. This disease is also usually found in cats, dogs and ferrets. Here our veterinary team explains 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 cats, dogs and ferrets, may become what is called a definitive host. This means that the worms live inside the animal, mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is referred to as heartworm disease because the parasites in in their lungs, heart and blood vessels.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the disease has reached a more advanced stage. Its most common symptoms include coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your veterinarian can conduct a suite of blood tests in order to detect heartworm protein antigens (or proteins) which they release into your pet's bloodstream. Heartworm antigens can't be detected until about 5 months after being infected, at the earliest.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
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.
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.
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.