Oakland pets are at risk for heartworm disease, a serious disease that can lead to severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage and even death for pets. This condition is typically found in dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is key, and the measures you can take.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease spreads through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by the parasitic worm dirogilaria immitis.
Cats, dogs and ferrets can become definitive hosts, meaning that ticks reside in the animal's internal system, then develop into adults, mate and produce offspring. Since the worms reside in the lungs, heart and infected blood vessels of a pet, this serious condition is called heartworm disease.
What are heartworm disease symptoms?
Generally, you will not see your pet display symptoms of heartworm disease until the disease has advanced. Coughing, weight loss, fatigue, difficulty breathing and swollen abdomen are common symptoms of heartworm disease.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests will detect heartworm proteins (antigens), which then enter the animal's bloodstream. However, heartworm proteins can't be detected until about five months (at the earliest) after an infected mosquito has bitten a pet.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?
Remember, treating your pet for heartworm disease can lead to serious complications and may be toxic to your pet's body. In addition, treatment is also expensive because your pet will need to see the veterinarian several times for hospitalization, bloodwork, a series of injections and x-rays. This is why we advocate for prevention as the best possible treatment for heartworm disease.
Keep in mind that if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms your vet will be able to offer treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an FDA-approved drug containing arsenic, which kills adult hearworms. To treat the disease, your vet will administer melarsomine dihydrochloride into your pet's back muscles.
When applied directly onto an animal's skin, topical FDA-approved solutions can also help to get rid of parasites in your pet's bloodstream.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
To prevent heartworm disease, it's imperative to ensure your pet is on preventive medication. Even if they are already regularly taking preventive heartworm medication, we recommend having your dog tested for heartworms once each year.
It's easier, safer and much more affordable to prevent heartworm infection than to treat the disease after it's progressed. Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect your pet against other parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.