Heartworm disease is a serious condition caused by an internal parasite that affects a variety of animals. This parasite is responsible for causing serious issues such as heart and lung concerns or even death. Our vets in Vancouver discuss what heartworm disease is and how to prevent it in your pets.
What exactly is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is most commonly caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis which is typically spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.
Unlike some other parasites that move from host to host, heartworms prefer choosing a definitive host to carry out their lifecycle within, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. We call this serious condition heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.
What symptoms are commonly caused by heartworm disease?
Unfortunately, when it comes to heartworm disease, the symptoms commonly do not appear until the disease is in its later stages. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How is my pet examined for heartworm disease?
In order to diagnose heartworm disease, your vet will perform diagnostic 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 should I do if my pet has been diagnosed with heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is not an easy condition to treat once it has been diagnosed in your pet. The treatment involved may be toxic to your pet and so it is important that you only have treatment provided by a qualified veterinary professional. 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.
If diagnosed, your vet will thoroughly explain all treatment options with you as well as the potential risks involved. 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.
What are some ways to prevent heartworm disease?
Preventive care is key to avoiding conditions such as this. Your vet will recommend preventive care for a variety of internal parasites such as heartworms. 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.