Heartworm disease is a serious condition that may result in serious lung disease, damage to internal organs and heart failure or death in pets in the Wisconsin Dells area. This disease is most commonly found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our veterinarians explain why prevention is so important.
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 what is called a definitive host. This means that the worms live inside your companion, mature into adults, mate and then produce offspring the start the cycle over again. This serious condition is called heartworm disease since the worms live in the heart, blood vessels and lungs of an infected animal.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
The symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease can include a swollen abdomen, fatigue, coughing, weight loss and difficulty breathing properly.
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?
It's important to understand that while there are treatments for heartworm disease, the treatments themselves may cause complications or even be toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but because treatment is intensive and requires multiple veterinary visits, blood tests, X-rays and injections, your pet's heartworm treatment can be expensive. Because of this, our vets say that prevention is the 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.
The prevention of heartworm disease is easier, safer and much more affordable than treatment for the disease in its progressed stages. A number of medications used to prevent heartworm disease can also help to protect against other parasites like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.