Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes and can be seen in cats, dogs, and ferrets. This serious condition can lead to organ failure and death if it goes untreated. In this blog, our Fountain Valley vets talk about the causes and symptoms of heartworm disease in pets and explain why prevention is important.
Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis and is transmitted through mosquito bites.
Pets such as ferrets, cats, and, dogs can become the hosts of heartworms, which means that these parasitic worms live, mate, and produce offspring in the pet's body. The serious condition is referred to as heartworm disease because the worms live in the blood vessels, lungs, and heart of the animals they infect.
The Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Cats & Dogs
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.
Testing Cats & Dogs For Heartworms
Your veterinarian can conduct complete blood tests to find heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into the bloodstream of infected pets. However, heartworm proteins can't be found until at least five months (at the earliest) after an infected mosquito has bitten your pet.
Treating Heartworms in Pets
Treatment for heartworm varies between cats and dogs. Heartworm treatment is often lengthy, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous for your pet—and expensive for you. This is why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease.
If your vet diagnoses your cat or dog with heartworms, they will explain to you what your treatment options are. For dogs, an FDA-approved medication (melarsomine dihydrochloride), that contains arsenic, will be administered through a series of injections into the muscles of your pup's back. Because this method of treatment is toxic to cats your vet will talk to you about alternative therapies.
Heartworms can live in dogs for 5-7 years, while in cats they typically only live for 2-3 years.
Preventing Your Pet From Getting Heartworms
For preventing heartworms it's essential that your pet stays up to date on their preventive medication. Even if your pet is already on preventive heartworm medication, we suggest having them tested for heartworms every year.
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.