Veterinarian for Heartworm Testing, Prevention, and Treatment
The Heartworm, Dirofilaria Immitis, is a parasitic roundworm (nematode). It is spread from host to host through mosquito bites. One bite alone from a mosquito carrying the heartworm larvae can infect your pet with heartworm disease. Once bitten by an infected mosquito, it takes seven months for the larvae to develop into mature heartworms.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a very serious and potentially fatal disease in pets. It is caused by mature heartworms, up to one foot in length, dwelling in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels. Once they lodge at these indicated sites, the parasites begin to reproduce. A dog can have as many as 250 worms living within its systems. These heartworms cause lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs within the body. Although these nematodes are often referred to as dog heartworm, they also can affect cats, ferrets, and other mammal species.
What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?
In dogs, a recent or mild infection of heartworm may show no signs. The progression of the disease results in your dog coughing, becoming lethargic, appetite loss, or difficulty breathing. You may also observe that your dog becomes tired after moderate exercise. The symptoms of heartworms are very different in cats, due to the fact that cats are atypical (unusual) hosts for heartworm. The larvae rarely survive to the adult stage, and thus the disease often goes undiagnosed. It is important to realize, however, that immature worms cause damage in the condition known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Signs of heartworm infection in cats include coughing, respiratory distress, and vomiting. In some cases, it can be fatal.
How Can Heartworm Disease be Prevented in Your Pet?
In preventing heartworm in your dog, be proactive. Make monthly heartworm chewable medication part of your pet care regime. Your pet should be tested annually for heartworm during routine visits. The test requires a small sample of blood to be drawn from your pet. This sample is then tested to detect the presence of the heartworm proteins. Even though heartworm preventative medications are very effective, a dog can still be infected.
Can Heartworms be Treated?
Heartworms in dogs can be treated by your Veterinarian if found in time, but this treatment can be risky. Treatment consists of two to three injections of Immiticide (an arsenic-based medication) spaced out over several months. Your dog will need to remain calm and rested for 4-6 weeks after each injection in order to reduce the chances of a pulmonary embolism. It is much easier, safer, more comfortable, and less expensive to prevent heartworms, compared to treating them.