Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Heartworm is a serious condition that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage and even death. Heartworm disease is most often found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key.


What is heartworm?

Heartworm disease, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito, is primarily is caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.

Pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets can become a 'definitive host', meaning that while living inside the animal the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected pet.

What are symptoms of heartworm disease?

Symptoms of heartworm disease generally don’t show up until the disease has progressed severely. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include: fatigue, swollen abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing and weight loss.

How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?

Blood tests can be done at your vet's office to detect heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released into the animal's bloodstream.

About 5 months after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito is the earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected.

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?

It's important to note that the treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to the pet’s body. Not only that, treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections.

That's why, the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention!

That said, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, there are treatment options available from your vet.

FDA approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that kills adult heartworms. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is administered by an injection into the back muscles of the pet in order to treat heartworm disease.

Topical FDA approved solutions are also available from your vet. 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?

Keeping your pet on preventive medication is the best way to prevent heartworm disease.

Even if they're already on preventive heartworm medication, it is recommended 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.

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