Heartworm disease is a serious condition that is found in cats, dogs and ferrets in Los Angeles County. It can cause severe lunge disease, heart failure, damage to organs and even death. Because of this, prevention is key to combatting this disease.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirogilaria immitis.
Pets, including cats, dogs, ferrets and more can become what is called a definitive host. This means that worms living inside the animal's body, mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. We refer to this serious condition as heartworm disease because the worms live in the blood vessels, heart and lungs of an infected pet.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
The symptoms of heartworm disease generally don't appear until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing.
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 heartworms?
It's important to remember that the treatment for heartworm disease may cause serious complications and be potentially toxic to your pet's body. Not only that, but treatment can be expensive too. Since it requires multiple visits to the vet, bloodwork, hospitalization and a series of injections. Because of this, our vets firmly believe that the best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention.
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 critical that you keep your pet on preventative medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventative heartworm medications, we recommend that dogs be tested annually for heartworms.
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.