Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Louisiana is a high risk area for heartworm disease, a serious condition which can cause damage to your pet's heart, lungs and other organs. This disease is usually found in ferrets, dogs and cats in Lafayette. Here, our vets walk through why prevention is so important.

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, ferrets and dogs are capable of become definitive hosts, meaning that the parasites live within the animal, mature into adults, mate and then reproduce. We refer to this condition as heartworm disease because the worms live in your pet's lungs, blood vessels and heart.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

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. 

How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?

Your vet can complete blood tests in order to detect heartworm antigens (or proteins) which the parasites release into your pet's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins cannot be found with tests until at least 5 months after your pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito. 

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?

It's important to keep in mind that restorative treatments for heartworm diseases can cause serious complications and can even be toxic to your pet's body. Not just that, but treatment also involves bloodwork, multiple visits to the vet, hospitalization, x-range and a number of injections. This makes it an expensive condition to treat. Because of this, prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease. 

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.

There are FD-approved topical solutions also available. These can help to get rid of the parasites in the bloodstream when they are applied to your pet's skin. 

How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?

It's incredibly important to keep your pet safe by keeping them on preventative heartworm medicine year round. While there are fewer mosquitos in the winter in Lafayette, they are still present and able to infect your pet with heartworm disease. Even if your pet is already being treated with heartworm preventative medication, we also recommend that they be tested for heartworms every year. 

Since mosquitos can sneak through open doors without too much trouble, it's important to be vigilant in medicating and testing even pets like cats who live mostly indoors. It can only take one mosquito bite to infect your pet.

Heartworm prevention is safer, easier and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease.

We offer a range of prevention products, including Revolution and Advantage Multi., two topical medications for cats which prevents heartworms, ear mites, fleas and intestinal parasites. For dogs, we offer a wide range of monthly chewable preventative heartworm medications or 6-month injections. 

Is your pet exhibiting signs of heartworm disease? Our vets have experiencing in diagnosing and treating many common illnesses and conditions. Book an appointment at St. Francis Veterinary Hospital today.