Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can lead to severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs and even death for pets in Albany. The disease is typically found in cats, dogs and ferrets. Our vets explain why prevention is key.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease spreads through mosquito bites and is primary caused by a parasitic worm named dirogilaria immitis.
Dogs, cats and ferrets can be definitive hosts, meaning that ticks live inside the animal before maturing into adults, mating and producing offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease as the worms live in the heart, blood vessels and lungs of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Typically, symptoms of heartworm disease won't typically appear until the disease has advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include coughing, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing and swollen abdomen.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet can perform blood tests to check for heartworm proteins (antigens), which are released into an animal's bloodstream. These proteins are impossible to detect until about five months (at the earliest) after an infected mosquito bites an animal.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Remember that treatment for heartworm disease can cause serious complications and potentially be toxic to your pet's body. Plus, the treatment is also expensive as it requires bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, a series of injections and multiple visits to the veterinarian. This is why we steadfastly advocate for prevention as the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
However, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, there are treatment options available at your vet's office. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an FDA-approved drug that contains arsenic to kill adult heartworms. To treat the disease, your vet will inject the drug into your pet's back muscles.
Alternative options include topical FDA-approved solutions . When applied directly to your pet's skin, these can help to eliminate parasites.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It's imperative to keep up on preventive medication to keep your pet from getting heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend having dogs tested for heartworms annually.
It's much safer, easier and more affordable to prevent heartworm disease than to treat the progressed condition. Many heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites, including whipworms, roundworms and hookworms.