Heartworm in Dogs and Cats - How to Prevent It

A serious condition that can result in heart failure, lung disease, irreparable organ damage, and even death - heartworm disease is typically found in cats, dogs, and ferrets. Today our Pico Rivera Animal Hospital vets discuss the efficacy of heartworm prevention treatment and why it's the best choice.

Heartworm Disease: The Silent Killer

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 definitive hosts, meaning that worms live inside the animal, then mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. Heartworm disease is named such due to the eponymous parasite's penchant for setting up camp inside the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected host. Most problematizing is the fact no symptoms of infestation appear until a minimum of 5 months have passed when treatment is more difficult and permanent damage may already have been done.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

As already stated, 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 which begins several months after initial infection. 

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 heartworm disease?

Keep in mind that treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. 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. 

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.

This all sounds terrible, is there a way to prevent heartworm disease in the first place?

You can keep your pet safe using preventive medication that prevents heartworm disease. In an abundance of caution, we do still recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually even when medicated. Our preventive medicine is included as part of our discounted wellness plans at Pico Rivera Animal Hospital, allowing pet owners to keep their furry companions safe at a reasonable price.

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.

Is your pet exhibiting signs of heartworm disease? Our vets have experienced in diagnosing and treating the devastating disease. Book an appointment at Pico Rivera Animal Hospital today if you have any concerns.