Heartworm disease is a serious condition affecting cats and dogs in the Provincetown area that can result in internal organ damage, heart failure and lung disease. Here, our vets explain why prevention of this dangerous parasitic condition is critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets like cats, dogs and ferrets may become what is called a definitive host, meaning that the heartworms live inside the animals, mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. We call this serious condition heartworm disease since the worms live in your pet's blood vessels, lungs and heart.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don't appear until the disease is advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Your vet will be able to complete blood tests to help detect heartworm antigens released into your animal's bloodstream as the parasites develop in their body. Heartworm proteins aren't able to be detected until at least 5 months after your p[et is bitten by a mosquito bearing the infection.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
It's important for you to remember that treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications in your pet and even be toxic to their body. Not only that, but treatment can be expensive and require multiple visits to the vet, hospitalization, bloodwork, x-rays, a series of injections and more. Because of this, we say that prevention is absolutely 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.
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.