Heartworm disease is a mosquito-borne parasitic infection that affects cats, dogs, and ferrets. Heartworm disease is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to organ failure and death. Our San Mateo vets explain why prevention is so important today.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis.
Heartworms can infect dogs, cats, and ferrets, causing the parasitic worms to live, mate, and produce offspring inside the animal's body. Heartworm disease is named after the worms that live in an infected pet's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease symptoms usually don't appear 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?
Your veterinarian can perform blood tests to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) that are released into the bloodstream of the animal. Heartworm proteins aren't detectable for at least five months after an animal has been bitten by an infected mosquito.
What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?
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 pet has heartworms, your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. A series of injections into your dog's back muscles will deliver an FDA-approved medication (melarsomine dihydrochloride), which contains arsenic. Because this treatment option is toxic to cats, your veterinarian will discuss other options with you.
Heartworms can live in dogs for 5-7 years while cats typically only live for 2-3.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?
It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually.
Heartworm prevention is much safer, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease once it has progressed. Other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms can be protected by a number of heartworm preventive medications.