Heartworm disease is a serious infection that can cause heart failure, severe lung disease, organ damage, and even death in pets in Baton Rouge. Typically, the disease is found in cats, dogs, and ferrets. Our veterinarians explain why prevention is critical.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.
Pets such as dogs, cats, and ferrets may become definitive hosts, which means that worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring inside the animal. We refer to this serious condition as heartworm disease because the worms live in an infected pet's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease typically does not manifest symptoms until the disease has progressed. Swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of heartworm disease.
How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?
Blood tests can be performed by your veterinarian to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins are not detectable in an animal for approximately five months (at the earliest) after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?
Bear in mind that heartworm disease treatment can result in serious complications and may be toxic to your pet. Not only that, treatment is costly, requiring multiple veterinarian visits, bloodwork, hospitalization, x-rays, and a series of injections. This is why we believe that the best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
Having said that, if your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian will discuss available treatment options. Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing medication that has been approved by the FDA. It is effective against adult heartworms. To treat the disease, melarsomine dihydrochloride will be injected into your pet's back muscles.
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 is critical to keep your pet on heartworm prevention medication. We recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.
Heartworm prevention is much safer, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease once it has progressed. Numerous heartworm preventive medications also protect against other parasites including hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.